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Specialty tag(s): Child Custody, Property Division, Divorce for Business Owners

Divorce and Doctors: What You Should Know if You or Your Spouse is a Physician

Lerrin Reinecke | March 16, 2022

The decision to get a divorce is a difficult one but divorcing a physician spouse after supporting them through a decade of medical training or making the decision to divorce and divide a medical practice that took years of hard work to build, adds a new level of complexity. I have been with my doctor husband through residency, an out-of-state two-year fellowship, his first “real” job, and becoming a partner at his practice. While we are happily married with young children, I have helped other doctors and their spouses navigate the divorce process involving the financial and emotional nuances specific to the medical field.

Tailoring a Possession Schedule for Your Family

Standard possession schedules are often unworkable with a doctor’s schedule. If the hospital or medical practice requires doctors to take calls, the possession schedule needs to allow for flexibility if called into work. Many ER doctors work 10- or 12-hour shifts, with different days off each week, also requiring a variable possession schedule that might change week-to-week.

Depending on where the doctor parent is in his or her career likely will govern the amount of control the doctor has over his or her schedule. In these unique circumstances, there are ways to create customized schedules to fit the needs of the children and address the varying schedules of the parents. Creativity in crafting a possession schedule to fit the family’s needs is key to a successful parenting plan.

Guidelines for Child and Spousal Support

Guideline child support is based on a percentage of the obligor’s (the paying parent’s) monthly net resources:

1 child                     20% of Obligor’s Net Resources

2 children                25% of Obligor’s Net Resources

3 children                30% of Obligor’s Net Resources

4 children                35% of Obligor’s Net Resources

5 children                40% of Obligor’s Net Resources

6+ children              Not less than the amount for 5 children

Once out of training, the doctor parent’s income will likely exceed the maximum amount of monthly net resources from which child support is calculated, which is currently $9,200 per month. Therefore, maximum guideline child support would be as follows:

1 child                     $1,840

2 children                $2,300

3 children                $2,760

4 children                $3,220

5 children                $3,680

6+ children              Not less than the amount for 5 children

In addition to child support, the parent receiving child support may desire to ask for the doctor parent to pay for a larger share of other expenses for the children, like private school tuition, extracurricular activities, or unreimbursed medical expenses. As additional support, perhaps the doctor parent would agree to continue to pay the mortgage on the family home as spousal support for a period of time so that the children and their primary parent do not have to move. These are not expenses a Court would necessarily order the doctor parent to pay in all circumstances, but it would certainly merit consideration and discussion.

Dividing Your Assets

After making barely enough to get by during residency and fellowship, doctors often make well into the six-figures at their first jobs. However, there is often substantial debt that must be paid off. Whether the doctor spouse’s medical school loans are considered a separate or community liability requires a fact-specific inquiry, including when the loans were acquired and how the funds were used (for example, whether they were used solely for school expenses or to also pay the family’s living expenses). With interest rates lowering, many doctors are also refinancing their student loans, sometimes with both parties’ names on the new loan, which could also complicate the characterization of the loan.

What happens if you supported your spouse in medical school?

If one spouse supported the parties financially while the other spouse was in medical school, that spouse might also use that as a basis to request a disproportionate share of the community estate or ongoing spousal support. The doctor spouse might have higher earning potential well into the future, whereas the other spouse might have put their career on the backburner. In that situation, requesting that the non-physician spouse receive more assets in the property division may be a way to make up for that.

How is a physician’s ownership in a medical practice divided in divorce?

Physicians often buy into their practices, medical facilities, or surgical centers after a few years of practice. A non-physician spouse often cannot simply assume a percentage of ownership in these entities in dividing the parties’ assets, as the bylaws typically require all shareholders to be physicians. Rather, the entity may need to be valued to determine the community property ownership interest to divide upon divorce.

Other Considerations

When it comes to making medical decisions for the children, sometimes the doctor parent naturally takes the lead. While that might have been fine during the marriage, once the parties are divorced, both parents often want an equal say. There are ways to handle the decision-making for medical decisions, surgical treatment, and psychological or psychiatric evaluation and treatment so that both parties are involved.

If you are contemplating divorce and you or your spouse is a physician, it is essential to find an attorney you trust who understands the nuanced issues related to your case. Contact the attorneys at Goranson Bain Ausley for a consultation to discuss how we can help your family navigate the divorce process.

Learn More

Lerrin Reinecke practices family law with a deep recognition that the choice of a lawyer is one of the most important decisions a client will make, and it affects every step moving forward. She knows what is at stake in family law cases and guides clients toward resolutions that positively set the stage for the future.

Lerrin is trained in collaborative law and focuses on reaching out-of-court settlements whenever possible; however, she is a skilled litigator who will take cases to court if necessary. With each case, Lerrin works with clients and not just for them, striving to achieve their most important goals. To learn more about special considerations in divorce if you or your spouse is a physician, please contact Lerrin Reinecke at 214-373-7676

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