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Division of Marital Assets

Career Building During Marriage: Getting Education Costs Back In a California Divorce

By May 14, 2010June 16th, 2016No Comments2 min read

Let’s say that a husband works full-time to support his wife while she goes to medical school.  The couple’s joint money is used to pay for the wife’s medical school, but not long after the wife becomes a doctor, the two decide to divorce.  Since the money used to pay for the wife’s education was community property (usually property is “community” if it was earned while married), should the wife pay this money back to the community estate upon divorce?

Many married couples in California have spent a lot of money on one spouse’s education.  Despite the steep price of an education, many couples feel it’s worth the cost because of the potential financial benefits they’ll both share down the road.  But what if there’s a divorce?

Assuming there’s no prenuptial agreement on the subject, California law generally gives a right to reimbursement for contributions to another spouse’s training or education (including payments on educational loans).  But only if the education does enough to increase the earning capacity of the educated spouse.  Proving this during a divorce can get complicated.

What Can Be Reimbursed?

For the most part, reimbursements would be for joint money spent on tuition and fees, books, and living expenses.  But if a reimbursement is owed, it might get reduced.  This usually happens when both spouses got an education using joint community money, or because both have already benefited from the degree while married (this can depend on how long you’ve been married after paying for college or training).

What About Future Income?

A reimbursement deals with the money spent during the marriage, but what about the fact that the spouse who earned the degree or license will probably be able to keep earning more money after the divorce.  Should the other spouse get a cut of the future income?  Here in California, a spouse won’t be given a percentage of educated spouse’s future earning ability.  At most, you’re limited to getting a reimbursement.  (Although spousal support could be affected).

With so many issues that come up in a divorce, including education costs, getting a good family law attorney is essential.  Get help from an experienced family law attorney by calling Minella Law Group at (619) 289-7948.