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How New York State law ‘splits up’ an advanced degree in divorce

In New York State, marital property can mean more than the family home, joint bank accounts and other valuables commonly split up in a divorce. Those with a Ph.D. or other professional degree or license may have to “divide” it between themselves and their former spouse.

Of course, it is impossible to “share” an advanced degree or professional license. Cutting a diploma in half does not give both spouses the education, training and skills needed to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant or other professional. But when one spouse worked and helped tend the household to give the other spouse the time and resources to pursue an advanced degree, the first spouse deserves to share in the second spouse’s success.

To accomplish this, state law requires that the degree’s present value be assessed. The formula used to do this is the difference between the degree holder’s expected future income and what he or she would have earned over his or her career without the degree.

This requires that the degrees and/or licenses be properly valuated. An inaccurate valuation will either cost the degree holder more than he or she should have to pay, or deprive the other spouse of his or her fair share. This often requires the services of professionals to fairly evaluate how much the degree will improve the holder’s earnings in the years ahead.

The best way to ensure that an advanced degree gets fairly “divided” in a way you and your ex can live with is to have an experienced divorce attorney on your side.