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Living with a physician, dentist, surgeon, or other medical professional can be a struggle. Long working hours, unpredictable schedules, and a highly emotional work environment – especially during the pandemic – can affect a doctor’s ability to be a good spouse or parent. When it becomes too much, you may decide divorce is the best option. But divorcing a doctor comes with special considerations.
More than a quarter of all healthcare professionals are divorced. Every day, Texas family law centers are called to step in and divorce physicians, dentists, pharmacists, and other medical professionals.
Divorcing a doctor can often be complicated. Their work is demanding and emotionally intense. The way their work is structured can make it difficult to:
It will take creativity and a thorough evaluation of your family’s circumstances to make sure you get a just result when divorcing a doctor. By working with an attorney who is Board Certified in the practice of family law, you can be certain your divorce settlement fair represents the work you put into your family and any family business.
Doctors may work long hours, with overnight shifts and unpredictable schedules. They often must sacrifice holidays or vacations for their patients. However, sometimes those choices are made at the expense of their children.
Texas law always requires child custody and visitation orders to be based on the “best interests of the children.” It may be hard to craft a doctor’s divorce settlement that will accommodate those best interests and the doctor’s obligations to their hospitals or patients. Often, your custody plan will need to be flexible and customized based on the doctor’s work schedule.
Many physicians’ families enjoy a comfortable standard of living based on their income. However, when those households separate, that income can create challenges when it is:
All this means doctors’ income can fluctuate year-to-year. The Texas Child Support Guidelines can accommodate for that variability. However, physicians also often earn more than the child support cap. With both these factors in play, your divorce attorney will need to advocate for a fair child support amount to allow your children to continue to live comfortably after divorce.
You too may be entitled to support. Spousal maintenance isn’t automatic, and it doesn’t apply in every case. However, it may apply if:
The length of a doctor’s education means that often they get married before they finish their doctorate degree and residency. In these cases, you, the non-physician spouse, likely supported the doctor or even helped pay for their medical school expenses (not including repaying student loans).
An M.D. or D.O. can’t be divided. You can’t take half of a board certification. Instead, you may be entitled to “reimbursement claims” for your extraordinary contributions toward your physician spouse’s education. The Texas Family Code allows the judge to award you an increased share of your family’s community property as reimbursement for this imbalance. In some cases, the judge can even award you a portion of your doctor-spouse’s separate property (such as a share in the family practice opened before the marriage).
This is a complicated issue and takes careful advocacy on your behalf. However, when successful it can allow you to make up some of the investment you made in your spouse’s career before you knew your marriage would fail.
However, the most complicated part of divorcing a doctor often involves the division of the family’s community property. In Texas, anything either spouse acquired during the marriage (except certain inheritances and gifts) is considered community property. The Texas divorce judge will divide all community property “in a manner that the court deems just and right.” That means that as the non-doctor spouse, you may be entitled to an equitable share of the doctor’s medical practice if:
If you have an equitable claim on your spouse’s medical practice, much will depend on how much the business is worth. Valuing a medical practice, like any other small business, is difficult. Most often, you will need to hire a business valuation expert, who can objectively measure the fair market value of the medical practice as a going business.
Once you have a set value, you and your spouse can negotiate your equitable share. If you are unable to reach a settlement, the judge will determine what is just and right, and will often offset that value using other community property (such as the home or retirement accounts), or structure payments to allow the doctor spouse to pay you over time.
Stacey Valdez is a board-certified Houston divorce attorney who helps men and women divorce doctors and other medical professionals. At Stacey Valdez & Associates, our clients and their families are always our top priority. We understand the complex issues around medical practice valuation and alimony and can help you receive a just portion of your family’s community property. Please contact us today online, or give us a call at (713) 294-7072 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you. Your first meeting with us is free in most situations.