Does an Advanced Degree have a Value that can be Distributed in a Divorce?

The question of whether an advanced degree, such as a medical license, has a value that can be distributed in a Divorce has long been settled by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In the case of Hodge v. Hodge, 513 Pa. 264 (1986), the Court faced the question of whether a doctor’s license to practice medicine, which was obtained during the marriage, had a value that could be divided during the equitable distribution of assets in a divorce case.

The Court in Hodge held that an advanced degree, such as a medical license was not property and was, therefore, not divisible as an asset in equitable distribution.

The Hodge Court looked at how other state courts ruled on the question. The Court relied heavily on a Colorado case wherein the Colorado Supreme Court first examined the question of whether an advanced degree was property. The Court in Hodge agreed with the Colorado’s Court’s determination that, because an advanced degree did not have any attributes of property such as the ability to sell, convey, transfer, pledge or inherit, it was not property and could therefore not be considered marital property under the Pennsylvania Divorce Code.

The Hodge Court further explained that the increased earning capacity that usually went along with obtaining an advanced degree is also not divisible in equitable distribution. The Court stated that the real value that one was seeking in an advanced degree was not the degree itself but the earnings that it may provide in the future. They found that because the increased earnings would be enjoyed after separation they were not marital property and not divisible.

Since the time of the Hodge decision the question of the value of an advanced degree has been a settled issue and has not been litigated further in Pennsylvania. The changes that have occurred, however, are with the Divorce Code itself. While the changes to the Divorce Code have not changed the determination that an advanced degree, such as a medical or law license, is not property, it did add factors with regard to equitable distribution and alimony regarding the contributions of one spouse to the education and increased earning power of the other. While this does not make future earnings distributable, it does allow the court to consider the increased earning power achieved during the marriage when dividing marital property or awarding alimony.

While an advanced degree cannot be valued and distributed in a divorce, the contributions and increased earnings that come from such a degree do factor into both equitable distribution and alimony and should be considered in any divorce case.

For more information on this topic or any other topic related to issues of divorce, custody, support or family law in general contact the family lawyers at Colgan & Associates.

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