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California physician divorce: Determining alimony

In any divorce, ongoing support is a priority matter. In marriages where one spouse earns a significantly higher income than the other, such as a physician, there are additional circumstances to be taken into consideration.

In determining ongoing support of the lower income party, a court will look at several items. First, it will determine the collective income of the practice for the entire duration of the marriage. This helps determine an average monthly income amount for a profession in which earnings can vary from month-to-month. Next, the non-physician spouse's income and/or contribution to the practice is addressed. This may include not only regular employment income, but also supporting the physician through medical school, as well as working in the physician's office for decreased or no pay. Once those amounts are determined, a court will look at the difference in income and make an alimony decision.

Take this scenario for example. A physician spouse makes $30,000 per month. The non-physician spouse only has part-time income of $4,000 per month. The court finds that a 70 -30 percent split is appropriate. If the non-physician spouse had zero income, this would mean that he or she would receive $9,000 alimony per month. However, since there is a part-time income of $4,000 per month, that amount gets deducted resulting in a monthly alimony payment from the physician spouse of $5,000. In addition to that amount, the court could also find that the non-physician spouse contributed to the income of the physician spouse by helping out in the office. In that case, the judge could increase the alimony amount at his or her discretion.

The length of time in which alimony must be paid will depend on the length of the marriage, as well as the standard of living reasonably expected.

An attorney who is experienced in high asset divorce matters can be fundamental in helping negotiate a settlement agreement quickly, and allowing both parties to comfortably move on with their lives.

Source: MDNetGuide, "Unique Issues for Physicians in Marital Dissolutions," Robert J. Mintz, May 2006

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