Monroe County, Alabama Rules Doctor's Professional Degree is not Divisible for Property Division

This is a contested divorce case out of Monroe County, Alabama, listed as House v. House. The parties were both well educated and had children. Both parties admitted to extra marital affairs and the issues were division of marital assets and custody.

The parties were married in 1999. Three children were born during the marriage. In the early years of the marriage, the husband worked as a chemical engineer. In 2006, he was accepted to medical school and he left the marital residence in Monroe County to attend medical school in Mobile.

He graduated medical school in 2010 but remained in Mobile to complete his medical residency. In June 2012, the husband became aware that the wife was having an affair.

The Husband then became involved in a romantic relationship with someone else, as well, In September 2012, the wife filed for divorce. While the husband lived in Mobile, the wife cared for the children and managed the household. In 2013, the husband moved back to Monroe County and was earning $78,000 annually as a medical doctor. The wife worked as an assistant principal for an elementary school, earning $55,492 per year. The marital home is a house built in 2005 on land that the wife’s parents gave to them. There was approximately $76,700 in equity in the property.

The husband had $180,000 in student loans and he had also received $120,000 in a forgivable loan. The trial court entered a judgment awarding the wife physical custody of the children. The husband’s child-support obligation was established at $1,230 per month.

The wife was awarded the marital residence and all of its contents. Further, the husband was required to pay alimony in gross in the amount of $120,000. The husband appealed and the wife cross-appealed. Appeal reversed; cross-appeal affirmed. The husband filed a post judgment motion in which he requested a hearing but none was afforded to him. Ala. R. Civ. P. 59(g) states that no post-judgment motion shall be ruled upon “until the parties have an opportunity to be heard thereon.”

Although it is error for a court not to hold a hearing on a post judgment motion, that error is harmless if there was no probable merit to the motion. In this case, the husband challenged the award of alimony in gross. Alimony in gross is the present value of the recipient spouse’s inchoate marital rights. In this case, the husband’s primary assets were his interest in the equity of the marital residence, his vehicle and $4,000 in a whole life insurance policy.

The wife was awarded the equity in the marital home. “In sum, there was no evidence of an existing estate from which the husband could pay $120,000 in alimony in gross to the wife.” The wife argued that the husband’s medical degree was a marital asset with substantial future value. However, there is no evidence in the record to support that assertion. Moreover, “a professional degree acquired by one spouse is not considered a marital asset for purposes of property division.” Lackey v. Lackey.

The award of alimony in gross in this case is due to be reversed. On appeal, the wife contended that the trial court erred by failing to award alimony to her. However, she did not make such a request to the trial court. The case is due to be remanded for the trial court to hold a hearing on the husband’s post judgment motion.

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