Despite the legislature's intent for "property" to be interpreted as broadly inclusive, an educational degree simply does not possess the common characteristics of property. A degree is an intangible which is personal to the holder. Even if valuation could be made certain, such valuation, whether based on future earning capacity or upon cost of acquisition, would ultimately result in an award beyond the actual physical assets of the marriage.
The parties married and the husband quit his job in order to attend law school full time. The wife supported them by working throughout the husband's law school attendance. The parties separated shortly before he graduated. The trial court determined that the husband's law degree could not be considered a marital asset subject to distribution. However, the court did include the husband's student loans, totaling in valuing the marital estate, and found repayment to be the sole responsibility of the husband. The trial court determined that, based upon the student loans, the disproportionate earnings history and the earning potential of the parties, the presumption of equal distribution had been rebutted. The wife appealed the determination that the husband's law degree was not marital property. The husband appealed the award of attorney fees.
Should the trial court should have included the husband's law degree as a marital asset subject to distribution?
The court affirmed and agreed with the trial court that the husband's law degree did not constitute marital property. Despite the legislature's intent that property be interpreted as broadly inclusive, a degree, intangible and personal to the holder, did not possess the common characteristics of property. The potential worth of a degree was dependent upon the choice and availability of work, the talents and abilities of the holder, and myriad other factors. Further, the award of attorney fees was withing the discretion of the trial court.