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In re Marriage of Graham

    Brief Fact Summary. Wife supported her husband financially while he attended school. The spouses filed for divorce and the issue became whether the husband’s degree was marital property that could be divided.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An educational degree is not encompassed by even a broad interpretation of property.

    Facts. Mr. and Mrs. Graham were married for six years. During that period, Mrs. Graham worked full time and Mr. Graham worked part time and obtained a Bachelor’s degree as well as Masters in Business Administration (MBA). As part of the divorce proceeding, the trial court ruled that the MBA was divisible property and estimated its worth and future earnings potential. The appellate court reversed and Mrs. Graham appealed.

    Issue. Whether a M.B.A constitutes marital property that can be divided in a divorce proceeding.

    Held. Affirmed
    An educational degree is not encompassed by even a broad interpretation of property. It does not have any of the characteristics of the concept of property.
    An educational degree cannot be transferred. It has no exchange value on the open market and terminates upon death.

    Dissent. The dissent focused on the fact that the husband’s increased earnings potential was the most valuable ‘asset’ obtained during the marriage. Equity, the dissent argued, demanded that the court seek extraordinary remedies to prevent extraordinary injustice.

    Discussion. The court discussed the purpose of dividing marital property as allocating to each spouse what equitably belongs to each. The court noted that the legislature wanted the definition of property to be broad, but that there must be limits. The court went on to note that a spouse that provides support to a spouse obtaining a degree is not without remedy. She or he can obtain relief when the court takes this fact into account, when dividing the marital property.


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