Brief Fact Summary. Mathew and Leigh were married, and she supported him throughout law school. Shortly before graduation the couple separated, and upon divorce Leigh argued that Mathew’s degree was a martial asset subject to distribution.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A degree is not a marital asset subject to distribution upon divorce.
Issue. Did the trial court err by not including Mathew’s law degree as a marital asset subject to distribution?
Held. A degree does not possess the common characteristics of property so as to be subject to distribution in a divorce proceeding.
Previous precedent has concluded that although the legislature intended for property to be interpreted as broadly inclusive, a degree does not possess the common characteristics of property. Furthermore, Indiana does not permit an award of future earnings unless the spouse qualifies for maintenance. Nevertheless, the earning ability of the degree-earning spouse may be considered in determining the distribution of the marital estate.
Leigh also argues the court should have made an award to compensate her for the dissipation of the marital estate by Mathew as a result of the income which the family was deprived of while he attended school and the contributions she made toward his education and the household living expenses. Dissipation commonly means foolishly or aimlessly, and the money expended to secure Mathew’s degree was not dissipated, even if Leigh did not reap the benefits she expected from it.
Leigh also argues that if Mathew’s degree is not a marital asset then his student loans should not be considered marital disabilities. However, they accrued during the marriage and Leigh suffered no harm from this consideration because he is solely responsible for the repayment.
Discussion. The Court based its decision on precedent, which noted that a the potential earning power of a degree is dependent on a myriad of potentialities.