I’m a medical student and frequently hear that if you are married during medical school and residency training, then your spouse is entitled to half of your future income even after divorce.
I have even heard that even if you cohabit during medical school and training, then your partner can potentially sue and have the living situation ruled as a de facto marriage, with the aforementioned splitting of salary resulting.
Is there any legal precedent for a ruling like this?
I am unable to give you legal advice on divorce. I can give general divorce help for men, though, my knowledge is based on New York divorce laws where I am licensed to practice.
The rumblings you have heard are true; what you are asking about is often referred to as “the nightmare scenario.”
Under my state’s common law, the courts have found that a professional degree acquired during a marriage is a marital asset and is subject to equitable distribution during divorce.
The methodology for determining the value of a degree is complex and is itself evolving within the court system.
Historically, an expert economist would provide testimony as to the current value of the degree based upon the average salary and expected earnings in a particular geographic area. This methodology disregards actual earnings and focuses only on potential earnings.
The courts are starting to look more toward what an individual is actually earning and performing its valuation based upon those figures. However, this developing method only works when the professional has been out of school and working for a reasonable amount of time.
All that being said, whether a spouse will be entitled to a percentage of a professional degree depends also on their level of support while the other was in school (or residency training).
If, for example, the professional spouse was able to fully support themselves while in school and the non-professional spouse did not contribute directly toward the degree, or did not contribute significantly more toward the household expenses, then their percentage of the value of the degree would be less than 50%; sometimes as low as 10% or 15%.
However, if the non-professional spouse took a second job to help pay the bills and was providing significant support while the professional spouse was in school, then their interest would surely be closer to 50%.
Finally, as to your question about whether these same principles apply to a couple who is living together but not married, one could only answer, “it depends.”
There are circumstances under which property acquired prior to marriage, but during cohabitation, can be subject to equitable distribution. (If never actually married, than absolutely not). This would require a great deal of contribution by the non-professional spouse and even then would not be certain.
Remember, I am unable to provide you with anything more than divorce tips for men, so please consult with divorce lawyers for men in your jurisdiction.