Educational Degrees & Professional Licenses

by Wes Cowell; updated 31 August 2015 -- suggest a correction

 

Illinois divorce law does not characterize college and grad-school degrees and professional licences as marital property. The degree- or license-holding spouse may have to reimburse a supporting spouse, however, for assistance and support provided during the marriage.  Need advice?  Call, leave your info, or schedulescheduleschedule a consult.

 

Illinois divorce law does not characterize higher educational degrees and professional licenses as marital property.  Indeed, Illinois law doesn't see them as "property" of any kind:

 

In our view, Illinois law presently provides an ample method for compensation to the contributing spouse through traditional remedies, without the need to resort to adoption of a hard and fast rule that a spouse's degree or license earned during the marriage is to be considered a marital asset even under limited circumstances.  We agree with the trial court's determination in the case at bar that James' degree and license did not constitute property.

 

In re: Marriage of Weinstein, 128 Ill.App.3d 234, 470 N.E.2d 551 (1st Dist., 1984).

 

The license goes to the license holder, period.  Illinois courts have ruled, however, that there must be adequate compensation where one spouse helps another acquire a professional license.  See, In re: Marriage of Silverstein, 352 Ill. App.3d 1226, 316 Ill.Dec. 675, 879 N.E.2d 1068, (1st Dist., 2004).  In re: Marriage of Abma, 308 Ill.App.3d 605, 242 Ill.Dec. 24, 720 N.E.2d 645 (1st Dist., 1999), In re: Marriage of Weinstein, 128 Ill.App.3d, 234, 83 Ill.Dec. 425, 470 N.E.2d 551 (1st Dist., 1984).  Generally speaking, the contributing spouse is awarded a larger share of the marital property to compensate for the increased earning capacity of the professional or degree-holding spouse.  Absent sufficient assets, most courts turn to an award of maintenance to balance the scales.

 

The general rule applies to more than just "professional" degrees, too – even obtaining just a college degree during the marriage and with the spouse's support should be considered by the court when splitting up the assets.  The focus is on the fact that one spouse obtained a degree during the marriage with the support of the other spouse.  In In re: Marriage of Woodward, 83 Ill.App.3d 253, 404 N.E.2d 575 (1980), the husband earned a college degree during the marriage thanks in part to the wife's support.  The mere fact that the supporting spouse had plenty of resources and easily afforded the support of the degree-earning spouse is largely irrelevant.  In re: Marriage of Silverstein, 2004, Ill.App.Ct., 1st Dist., No. 1-01-0593.  That's right, where a millionaire's spouse could stay at home and do nothing but instead goes out and earns a degree, the degree will be counted against that spouse and may result in that spouse compensating the millionaire for the support.

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