Doctors and Divorce: What Physicians Need to Know

Divorce is complex for all couples, but this is especially true for doctors. Doctors have stressful jobs with emotional pressures. Their work can have them facing disease, chronic pain, and death on a daily basis.

Plus, it takes years to become a doctor, many more years than other careers. All doctors endured hours and hours of focused study in college and medical school. Demanding work schedules are second nature for physicians.

Studies show that surgeons and psychiatrists have higher divorce rates than other types of doctors. And, female physicians are more likely to divorce than male doctors. (Studies also show that any female who works outside of the home more than 40 hours a week is more likely to divorce than others – perhaps due to the demands of juggling work and home life.)

This article will highlight some of the issues that are unique to divorcing doctors and their spouses. Doctors have worked strenuously to obtain their credentials, which typically means demanding and unpredictable work schedules. When divorcing with children, often the physician parent has been more absent from the home and children than the non-physician parent. With separation and divorce, the doctor will now see his or her children even less. Creating a custody schedule may be challenging. It is imperative that the doctor parent has excellent child-care options and a strong support system in place to assist with custody/visitation time.

Other distinctive issues in a doctor divorce are financial based. There are the issues of the determination of income and valuation of the medical practice/office. Calculating a physician’s income may be based on the number of patients/procedures-factors that may fluctuate from year to year. The doctor may also work for several health care entities, engage in locum tenens work, and have several income sources. Often in divorce cases, the non-doctor spouse was a hard worker, supporting the family, while the future doctor toiled away in college and medical school. The non-doctor spouse may work in the medical practice as an assistant or office manager, and this spouse may feel entitled to some part of the medical practice because of the “sweat equity” he or she put into the marriage and support system for the doctor. The non-doctor spouse will also argue that the medical practice is more than just the value of the brick and mortar building and medical equipment. There is the good will associated with that medical office being the “best office in town for a check-up”. Please see our article about valuation of a medical practice.

The non-doctor spouse may demand “reimbursement alimony” and/or spousal support if the doctor spouse is making a much larger salary. Another complicating factor is the reality that a medical license cannot be divided. The license belongs to the person who earned it and whose name is before the MD. No matter how much the non-doctor spouse helped the other by quizzing over body parts and infectious diseases, the license cannot be divided and given to both spouses. The medical practice can be valued, with good will, and distributed, or what is more likely, other assets can be distributed in such a way to benefit the non-doctor spouse. Spousal support can also be awarded. Likewise, the couple will need to address debt. Just as a lot work went into medical school, so did money. Tuition and living expense debts from medical school must be divided. Student loans have been considered marital debts for those monies associated with living expenses during school enrollment. Medical school expenses can be $100,000+.

To conclude with an analogy, when facing a medical emergency, it is important to get the proper treatment. Those going through a divorce when a doctor is involved, need to obtain proper treatment/legal counsel as well.


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