Physicians wear many hats in their professional and personal lives, from healer to entrepreneur to provider. When doctors divorce, sometimes the proceedings transpire much like anyone else’s. However, there can be some special concerns that arise if the doctor had their own practice or shared one with their spouse.
Doctors often work long hours in high-stress environments. For years, this was thought to lead to higher rates of divorce. However, one of the largest investigations of divorce rates among doctors, published in the British Medical Journal, found that physicians were actually less likely to divorce – unless the doctor in the relationship was female.
Five years of survey data from more than 40,000 doctors and 200,000 other health professionals (nurses, dentists, pharmacists, health care executives, etc.) revealed doctors had a divorce rate of 24 percent. Among health care executives, the rate was 31 percent. For nurses, it was 33 percent. All non-healthcare occupations had a 35 percent probability of being divorced.
But compare female physicians to their male counterparts, and the divorce rate was 1.5 times higher. This is especially true when they worked more than 40 hours in a week. Researchers speculated part of the reason could be that female doctors must make more significant tradeoffs to achieve work-life balance.
Special Considerations When Doctors Divorce
In many ways, divorce involving physicians is the same as any other. New Jersey allows for no-fault divorce so there is little reason to be overly concerned that the end of a marriage will malign one’s public reputation.
But there are a few areas that could be of special concern. These include:
- Student loans. Many physicians have large student loan debt that they pay off for years after they are in practice. If that debt was incurred prior to the marriage, it’s likely going to be considered separate debt. How this debt will be classified and whether it will be offset is highly fact-specific to each case.
- Is the practice marital property? Although property acquired prior to marriage is generally considered personal property (not subject to equitable distribution in a divorce), the court can decide otherwise and divide it equitably. This is especially true if the practice grew a substantial amount during the marriage and/or the other spouse was supportive in other ways. If it is designated marital property, an appraisal will need to take place to ascertain the value of the practice. Division of a practice can affect a physician’s shares in the practice, which can have a snowball effect in his/her ability to continue to pay/support staff. Often in that situation, the court will decide to avoid inflicting economic damage on the practice so initiate an offset against existing property. For instance, if the practice is valued at $500,000, but the couple owns a $450,000 home, the court may decide to allow the physician to keep the practice and the other spouse to keep the home.
- Does the physician spouse have any pending liabilities? Medical malpractice claims can impact divorce and other family law matters. Medical malpractice claims are civil claims made against physicians arising from disputes over patient care and/or the medical practice. Examples include a medical mistake or misdiagnosis. Most of the time, the doctor’s medical malpractice insurer will cover these claims and handle settlements and judgments. However, there are limits and policy rules that can leave the physician in a position of having to personally cover some or all the losses. Beyond that, a successful medical malpractice claim could impact the doctor’s future earning potential and ability to pay child support, alimony, etc.
- Should alimony be paid? Alimony is not a given in New Jersey, particularly if spouses haven’t been married for long. However, if the non-doctor spouse worked to help support the other through medical school, a strong argument could be made that these sacrifices entitle the supporting spouse to a period of alimony. Alternatively, they may receive a larger portion of marital property.
- Pandemic-related issues. As we reported in one of our New Jersey divorce lawyer blogs earlier this year, physicians and other essential workers have been facing battles in family court over custody and parenting time amid safety concerns - particularly when they are directly treating patients with the highly infectious novel coronavirus. It’s especially true for those who have children with underlying health conditions. This is a developing area of law, and one you will want to carefully discuss with your divorce lawyer.
If you have questions about the specifics of your New Jersey divorce, our Freehold divorce attorneys can help.
Call Rozin | Golinder Law today at (732) 810-0034 to speak to our experienced divorce lawyers.