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The unique divorce situation in which one spouse is a doctor

Having a physician as a spouse may have been considered the "marriage jackpot" at one point in time. However, marriages in which one of the spouses is a doctor may pose special divorce legal issues in Louisiana. These often involve situations in which the non-doctor spouse is seeking compensation for the sacrifices they made for their partner's medical education, career and income inequality.

A common situation involves one spouse working, giving up education and job opportunities for many years, so that their partner can receive a medical education and complete their residency and internship. Then, that spouse becomes a stay-at-home parent and gives up additional income and career opportunities so that the doctor spouse can develop their practice.

Louisiana is one of nine community property states where all property and debt acquired during marriage belongs to the spouses. However, this may not result in an equal distribution of assets. Courts may have to decide what the non-medical spouse contributed to their spouse's professional career and the potential earnings they forfeited in furtherance of their spouse's medical career.

Alimony is another significant issue. A spouse who has less financial assets may request temporary support from their physician spouse to maintain their standard of living. The higher wage earner spouse, however, may ask the court to lower these payments over time so that the spouse becomes employed and financially independent.

Physician spouses may argue that no sacrifices were made to further their career. For example, they may have married after the physician already completed their medical education. If they never had children, a spouse did not have to give up employment opportunities to be a stay-at-home parent. Or, both spouses may have had well-paying careers. These divorces may have more complicated issues, but share a fact associated with other divorces: Divorcing couples usually fight to keep as much of their income and property as possible.

Source: MD Magazine, "One spouse is a physician; the other is not," Douglas R. York, MD, Nov. 10, 2017

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