“I supported my wife through medical school, and now she is a successful plastic surgeon. Am I entitled to a share of her practice?”
Yes. You will be entitled to one-half of the community-property portion of the medical practice’s value. Depending upon the specific circumstances of your marriage and what happens to the practice in the interval between separation and trial, the medical practice might be valued on the date of trial, the date of separation, or in a hybrid manner that the court believes is equitable. Unfortunately, if this is a new practice and your wife has not yet had the opportunity to develop professional goodwill, the value of her medical practice may not be substantial. We will most likely retain the services of a forensic accountant to assist the court in properly valuing the practice.
The community may also be entitled to a reimbursement, with interest, for the community-property monies contributed toward your wife’s educational expenses in furtherance of her medical degree. Any such reimbursement will be limited to actual educational expenses, such as books and tuition, and will be contingent upon your ability to prove that her medical degree substantially enhances her earning capacity. Your wife may have certain defenses to this reimbursement, especially if the marital community benefited substantially from her medical degree or you received similar education during your marriage at the community’s expense.
To the extent that you contributed separate-property monies toward your wife’s medical education prior to marriage, you would not be entitled to reimbursement of such monies under the Family Code unless you have a valid premarital agreement providing for reimbursement. You may want to consult with a civil attorney to inquire about possible remedies that arise independent of the Family Code.
David P. Shebby is a former attorney that practiced family law with Feinberg, Mindel, Brandt & Klein in Los Angeles.