Hoak v. Hoak Case Brief

Summary of Hoak v. Hoak, S. Ct. W. VA, 1988

Marital Property

Relevant Facts: The parties were married and the husband was attending medical school. The wife had received her bachelor’s degree and was employed and supporting her husband while he went to medical school. He only worked odd jobs during school. Upon graduating he took a surgical job and began to support his wife. One year later they had daughter and they filed for divorce.

Legal Issue(s): Whether a professional degree earned during a marriage is marital property subject to distribution?

Court’s Holding: No.

Procedure: Trial ct determined the degree is not marital property, but awarded alimony to reimburse and compensate the wife. Reversed and remanded.

Law or Rule(s): All property and earnings acquired by either spouse during the marriage, including every valuable right and interest is marital property. The amt. of increase in value which results from the expenditure of marital assets or work performed by either spouse during the marriage is consideration in that interest.

Court Rationale: The medical degree is not a valuable right or interest. It does not have an exchange value or any objective transferable value on an open market. It terminates upon death, it cannot be assigned, sold, transferred, conveyed, or pledged. It is too speculative to retain a value as marital property. The value of a professional degree is the value of the enhanced earning capacity of the degree holder. Not only is that value speculative, but also it represents money or assets earned after the dissolution of the marriage. It falls outside the statutory definition “all property acquired during the marriage."

Plaintiff’s Argument: (wife) A professional license to practice medicine earned during the marriage is marital property.

Defendant’s Argument:(husband) A professional license has no actual immediate value that the court can divide, it is speculative and only enhances personal characteristics.

Alimony – Where a partner takes a benefit of his spouse’s support in obtaining a professional degree or license with the understanding that future benefits will accrue and inure both of them, and the marriage terminates w/o the supporting spouse receiving anything for that support, an unfairness occurs and a remedy is called for. Where the supporting spouse has delayed educational pursuits, rehabilitative alimony may also be an issue and appropriate.

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