Divorce and Education Expenses

Last month, Patricia Herzog, the lawyer who argued in front of the Supreme Court that a wife who put her husband through medical school should be able to share in his future earnings, died at age 88. In 1982, while handling the divorce of Janet Sullivan, Herzog came up with the notion that an education and the resulting degree obtained, should be treated as a community property asset. Herzog argued that Janet Sullivan’s husband’s medical degree was a “joint investment of time and effort,” and as such, his wife should be entitled to share in his future earnings.

The court case was ultimately resolved by a change in statute. Family Code S2641 now states that “upon dissolution of marriage or legal separation, the community shall be reimbursed for community contributions to education or training of a party that substantially enhances the earning capacity of the party.” So while Janet Sullivan was not entitled to share in her husband’s future earnings, she was reimbursed for the funds spent on the husband’s education during their marriage.

This is a common issue in many cases, given that many people attend college and obtain higher education degrees during marriage. Often the community spends thousands of dollars putting one or the other spouse through school. Then, upon divorce, the other spouse feels that they should be paid back for their spouses education given that the educated spouse will likely benefit financially from their degree. Unfortunately, the statute has several restrictions on reimbursement and it can be difficult to ascertain what expenses may actually be reimbursed. Additionally, if the education was obtained several years back, it may be difficult to trace the funds actually spent. At Mello & Pickering, LLP we handle countless cases dealing with issues of reimbursement, for education and all other types of expenses. We can assist you with determining your reimbursement claims and/or analyzing your spouse’s reimbursement claims, which can often be a confusing and lengthy process without the assistance of an attorney. Call us for a free consultation or a one hour in person appointment at (408) 288-7800.

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