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Law School Case Brief

Elkus v. Elkus - 169 A.D.2d 134, 572 N.Y.S.2d 901 (App. Div. 1991)

Rule:

Medical licenses have been held to enhance the earning capacity of their holders, so as to enable the other spouse who made direct or indirect contributions to their acquisition, to share their value as part of equitable distribution. A Medical Board certification, a law degree, an accounting degree, a podiatry practice, the licensing and certification of a physician's assistant, a Masters degree in teaching and a fellowship in the Society of Actuaries have also been held to constitute marital property.

Facts:

Plaintiff, Frederica von Stade Elkus, and defendant, Peter Elkus, were married on February 9, 1973. At the time of the parties’ marriage, Frederica just embarked on her career, performing minor roles with the Metropolitan Opera Company. During the course of the marriage, Frederica’s career succeeded dramatically and her income rose accordingly. During the marriage, Peter traveled with Frederica throughout the world, attending and critiquing her performances and rehearsals, and photographed her for album covers and magazine articles. Peter was also Frederica’s voice coach and teacher for 10 years of the marriage. When the parties divorced, Frederica moved for an order determining that her celebrity status and any income derived from it did not constitute marital property subject equitable distribution. The trial court determined that Frederica’s celebrity status was not marital property. Subsequently, Peter appealed, contending that since Frederica’s career and/or celebrity status increased in value during the marriage due in part to his contributions, he was entitled to equitable distribution of this marital property.

Issue:

Did Frederica’s celebrity status and any income derived from it constitute marital property subject equitable distribution?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that Frederica’s celebrity status was the same as that of a licensed professional and subject to equitable distribution. Furthermore, the Court held that the appreciation of Frederica’s career that resulted from Peter’s contribution was also marital property subject to equitable distribution. Consequently, the trial court's decision ruling that Frederica’s celebrity status was not marital property was reversed, and the case was remanded to the trial court for further divorce proceedings.

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