Divorce When Both Spouses Are Physicians
By: Douglas York
The concept of divorce when both spouses are physicians is a fairly recent concern. In 1970 less than 10 percent of U.S. physicians were women, today more than 32 percent are women in addition making up almost half of the students in medical school currently in the U.S. Obviously, this means that a significant share of physician divorces these days will occur in situations in which both spouses are doctors.
Two doctors divorcing will experience emotional upheaval just like any other divorcing couple, but in some cases the financial process of separating their assets may be a little easier. If both spouses are in the same practice and either started or joined the practice at the same time, the value of the practice needs to be determined by expert accountants and the asset then divided fairly according to the shares of the divorcing spouses relative to other partners in the practice. If one spouse, however, joined the practice or started the practice before the marriage, tracing of this fact becomes paramount because everything is considered “community” until the spouse with separate property proves that it is indeed separate. If involvement in a practice prior to the marriage is not carefully documented and proven, the related income and property may be lost.
What if they are in different practices, or one is working directly for a hospital or clinic or medical school, and the other is part of a private practice? According to a 2017 report on CNN Money based on a survey of 36,000 doctors, women doctors earn on average 74 cents for every dollar a male physician makes. Depending on where you live in the U.S., the pay gap can range from “only” 19% to a whopping 33%.
A significant gap between the earnings of the male spouse over the years and the earnings of the female spouse can play a role in the division of community property and the allotment of temporary spousal support, just as in any other marriage in which earnings have been unequal. It may also be the case where one physician spouse didn’t put in the same number of hours per week as the other because, even though both were actively practicing, that spouse was handling the larger share of childcare, and that has to be taken into account in dividing up assets.
Obviously, a lot of potential dissension and expensive financial analysis could be prevented if the two physicians signed a prenuptial agreement before they married, laying out how assets were to be divided in the case of a divorce. But it appears that, while male physicians may be comfortable taking this step – especially in the case of a second or third marriage – female physicians are much more reluctant to demand that a spouse-to-be sign a prenup, even in cases where her income is likely to be greater than his.
Even when the two spouses have been part of the same medical practice, each should have his/her own legal representation when it comes to deciding how the value of the practice and other assets should be divided. An experienced attorney will also help each party properly document and protect any separate property he or she may have, apart from the joint practice. If each has his or her own representation, they are more likely to feel that their interests have been fairly and thoroughly represented at the end of the process. Choosing a less expensive attorney who is not competent and experienced in the tracing process could be extremely costly in the long run.
This article was written by Douglas R. York, an attorney based in Houston with 17 years’ experience in marriage dissolution, including multi-jurisdictional divorces involving highly complex legal issues. For more information visit: douglasyork.com.
This article offers legal information but not legal advice pertaining to specific, individual circumstances. No attorney-client relationship is formed with readers.