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Quirk in New York law regarding professional degrees

It is not uncommon for New Yorkers to hold degrees that are seemingly unrelated to their current professions. For example, a person with a law degree may start a non-profit or go into teaching. Someone with a Master's in public health may open a coffee shop, or an account many switch careers and become a social worker.

Although career switches are not uncommon in New York, some people were surprised that a professional degree could become a liability in divorce court.

Prior to a change in the law in 2015, a professional degree was treated as an asset in New York divorce courses. This means that an old degree could have been used to determine how much support one spouse owed to another, according to Bloomberg News. An alimony bill passed last year fixed this odd area of the law.

What set the precedent?

The strange New York legal precedent apparently came from a 1980s divorce case which involved a woman who gave up her career to help her husband. After the husband obtained a medical degree, he divorced her. The wife then claimed that the divorce deprived her of her investment in the future worth of her husband's earnings.

Although the legal precedent had a ring of fairness at the time, it was then applied in other cases in a way that produced seemingly unfair outcomes. For example, considering the lifetime value of a professional degree earned during a marriage may produce an unpredictable result if the spouse with the degree is earning less than expected.

No strict formula in New York

Unlike some states, New York does not use a strict formula when calculating alimony payments. The amount of alimony to which someone is entitled may vary depending on a wide variety of factors including the spouses' ages, actual income and earning capacity, among other things.

In addition to clearly defining a spouse's income and earning potential, there are several other ways that a person can maximize one's alimony award. One of the most common ways involves uncovering hidden sources of support. Hidden sources of support include employer-sponsored benefits. It is important to consult with an experienced divorce attorney to ensure that your spousal support reward fully reflects everything to which you are entitle d.

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