A not uncommon problem exists “when one spouse works to support the other spouse while the latter studies for and obtains a professional or other degree which leads to a career offering greater financial rewards than the spouse would otherwise expect.”
Massachusetts is among the majority of states which hold that “a professional license or degree is not property subject to equitable distribution upon divorce or dissolution.”
It should be noted that while a degree or professional license is not assignable property, both its potential for future income production and the contribution of the non-degreed spouse to the earning of the degree and license may be considered both in the award of alimony and in assignment of other property.
Where one spouse had made contribution to the other’s earning of a valuable degree with an understanding that the education will be used to improve the financial situation of the family some courts have allowed a form of “rehabilitative alimony” to the non-degreed spouse when the divorce occurs abruptly after the degree is earned.
The Supreme Judical Court has referred to this practice but without indicating whether it is appropriate, at least in the absence of a need for support. However, since the court may consider the contribution of the parties, it is not error for the court to consider the non-degreed spouse’s financial contributions” to the other’s earning of the degree and his or her “homemaking services” in regard ro both “the assignment of the estates of the parties, but also the award of alimony.”
If, in addition to financial contributions of the non-degreed spouse has postponed her educational plans in order to allow the spouse to first earn the degree, then a form of rehabilitative alimony may be appropriate to allow the non-degreed spouse to obtain vocational or professional education.
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