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Professional Education

Some property law experts suggest that professional education acquired by the use of community funds should be considered as community property.  In such a case, courts shall determine the value of professional education and distribute the value to the spouses on dissolution of the community relationship.  However, some courts were reluctant to attribute such an all encompassing definition to the term “property”.  For instance, a California court, while recognizing the right to practice medicine and similar professions as a property, has refused to classify the right as community property.  The court held that, “at best, education is an intangible property right, the value of which, because of its character, cannot have a monetary value placed upon it for division between spouses[i].” 

Courts have determined that in order for something to be considered as property, the right should have certain attributes, like being susceptible of ownership in common, of transfer and survival[ii].  Thus, although the right to practice law is a property right which cannot be classed as community property, the value of the practice at the time of dissolution of the community is community property[iii].

Similarly, a Colorado court has refused to accept an M.B.A. degree as property.  The court held that such a degree “does not have an exchange value or any objective transferable value on an open market.  It is personal to the holder.  It terminates on death of the holder and is not inheritable.  It cannot be assigned, sold, transferred, conveyed, or pledged.  An advanced degree is a cumulative product of many years of previous education, combined with diligence and hard work.  It may not be acquired by the mere expenditure of money.  It is simply an intellectual achievement that may potentially assist in the future acquisition of property[iv].”

Thus, the majority view is that a professional education acquired during marriage is not community property[v].

[i] Todd v. Todd, 272 Cal. App. 2d 786, 791 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. 1969)

[ii] Franklin v. Franklin, 67 Cal. App. 2d 717 (Cal. App. 1945)

[iii] Id.

[iv] In re Marriage of Graham, 194 Colo. 429 (Colo. 1978)

[v] In re Marriage of Sullivan, 134 Cal. App. 3d 634 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 1982)

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