According to recent studies, divorce among doctors is not as common as one would expect. If you are a doctor who is considering getting a divorce in spite of the positive statistics, there will likely be special considerations that you may need to address with a family law attorney. In general, the divorce process can be a complicated process, and when one or both spouses are doctors, a divorce may be even more complex than a divorce between a non-doctor couple. The heightened complexity of the divorce may stem from various reasons, such as increased earning potential; the existence of a private practice; or the amount of financial support contributed by the non-doctor spouse.
Any doctor with a private practice might find it stressful to consider that a divorce may affect his or her practice negatively. In Massachusetts, the ways divorce can affect your practice may vary depending on your marital situation. Massachusetts judges divide marital property equitably among the spouses upon divorce. It is important to understand that equitably does not always mean equally, as judges base their decisions on fairness.
It can be a common misconception that if property was acquired before a marriage, it will not be divided upon the dissolution of the marriage. In Massachusetts, the judge will divide the property in any way he or she feels is equitable, even if the property was acquired before the marriage took place. For a doctor who started his or her own practice prior to the marriage, this could mean the practice may be considered marital property and subject to division. Usually, an appraisal will be done to determine the value of the practice. To avoid causing economic damage to the practice, the court may offset against the existing property value. For example, if the doctor’s medical practice is worth $300k, and the parties own a $300k home together, the non-doctor spouse will keep the house and the doctor will be entitled to keep the medical practice.
The situation may differ when both spouses are doctors and started their medical practice together. If this were the situation, the practice would most likely be divided equally. On the rare chance that the spouses decide they can work with one another post-divorce, division of the practice can be avoided. As continuing to work together is usually not a viable option (hence the divorce) one doctor will be required to buy out the portion considered marital property from the other spouse.
Unless you are a sole practitioner, it is also important to evaluate how your pending divorce may affect your partners and staff. A divorce may affect your shares in your practice and your money flow, which in return may affect your ability to pay your support staff. Although every situation is different, being proactive and discussing with a divorce attorney the possible repercussions your divorce may have on your practice is important.
Another complicated issue that may arise for a doctor who is divorcing is the how much alimony the non-doctor spouse is entitled too. A common scenario is where the non-doctor spouse worked to help support the other spouse through medical education. Moreover, it may be argued that the non-doctor spouse forfeited a promising career so that the other spouse could pursue his or her career as a doctor. Either argument may persuade a judge that the non-doctor spouse is entitled to more alimony or a larger portion of the marital property.
Massachusetts law considers reimbursement alimony for the non-doctor spouse in a short-term marriage (no more than 5 years). Reimbursement alimony functions as a way to pay back the non-doctor spouse for any economic contributions he or she may have made to the spouse who received the medical education. Generally, this type of alimony will be provided when the economic contributions were made to help the other spouse complete their education.
If you are a doctor who is considering getting a divorce, it is important that you contact a divorce attorney as soon as possible. Divorce can be a very difficult process and there may be added complications when doctors divorce, especially in situations where a private practice is involved. As a doctor who is potentially divorcing, it is important to be transparent with your divorce attorney because it is possible your pending divorce may affect your life in ways you were not expecting. For more questions regarding special considerations a doctor should be aware of when seeking a divorce, please contact our office at your earliest convenience to schedule a free consultation.