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The O’Brien doctrine in NY Divorce Law

A recent Appellate Division decision highlights the ongoing saga of the O’Brien doctrine, which held that an educational degree obtained during the marriage has a monetary value which can, and at times should be divided between the parties.

In McCaffrey v. McCaffrey, — A.D.3d –, — N.Y.S.2d — (App. Div. 3rd Dept. June 06, 2013) the parties married in 1999 and filed for divorce in 2010.  During the marriage the husband earned an Associate’s degree in telecommunications and a Bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in accounting.  The wife claimed that these degrees enhanced his earning capacity, and under the O’Brien doctrine, she sought an award of part of their value.  The Supreme Court found that $76,500 of the husband’s lifetime enhanced earning potential was traceable to his degrees, and awarded her 15% of that amount, totaling $11,475.  On appeal, the Appellate Division upheld the award stating that the wife demonstrated that she had in a meaningful and substantial way, contributed to her husband’s efforts in obtaining the degrees.

Unfortunately, the litigation fees and expenses probably cost far more than the award itself.

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