O'brien v. O'brien

489 N.E.2d 712 (N.Y. 1985)


H and W married on April 3, 1971. At the time, both were employed as teachers at the same private school. W had a bachelor's degree and a temporary teaching certificate but required 18 months of postgraduate classes at an approximate cost of $3,000, excluding living expenses, to obtain permanent certification in New York. W claimed, and the trial court found, that she had relinquished the opportunity to obtain permanent certification while H pursued his education. At the time of the marriage, H had completed only three and one-half years of college, but shortly afterward he returned to school at night to earn his bachelor's degree and to complete sufficient premedical courses to enter medical school. In September 1973 the parties moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, where H became a full-time medical student. W held several teaching and tutorial positions and contributed her earnings to their joint expenses. The returned to New York in December 1976 for H to complete the last two semesters of medical school and internship training here. W resumed her former teaching position, and she remained in it at the time this action was commenced. H was licensed to practice medicine in October 1980. He commenced this action for divorce two months later. At the time of trial, he was a resident in general surgery. H was gainfully employed throughout the marriage, and contributed all of her earnings to their living and educational expenses and that her financial contributions exceeded those of H. The court found that W had contributed 76% of the parties' income exclusive of a $ 10,000 student loan. The court then found that the medical degree was marital property. W's expert testimony claimed the degree was worth $472,000, and the present value of W's contribution to plaintiff's medical education was $103,390. H offered no expert testimony on the subject. The court made a distributive award to her of $188,800. The Appellate Division concluded that a professional license acquired during the marriage is not marital property subject to distribution. W appealed.