Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
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.
Facts. Mathew and Leigh Roberts were married in 1989. In 1990 Mathew began attending law school as a full time student. Before this, he had been employed by a bank earning a salary of $30,000 a year. The couple agreed that Mathew would quit working and attend school full time while Leigh continued to work and support them. She also assumed primary responsibility for running the household so Mathew could devote all his time to his studies. Two months before Mathew’s graduation Leigh learned she was pregnant, and thereafter the couple separated. Mathew finished third in his class and took an associate position at a large law firm upon graduation. He filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in 1993. The major asset was the marital home, with a value of $70,000 and a mortgage of $63,245.00. The court determined that Mathew’s law degree could not be considered a marital asset subject to distribution. The court did include his student loans in valuing the marital estate, and
found their repayment to be his sole responsibility. The court found that the presumption of equal distribution had been rebutted, and a total net debt of $2,415.04 to Mathew and a total net asset of $25,534.98 to Leigh.
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.