A situation we, as family law lawyers, see from time to time in our plethora of cases involves couples who marry and the community ends up paying for one spouse to attend school, thereby substantially ehancing that spouse’s ability to earn. For example, John and Sue get married. John is the only spouse working and all income earned by John during the marriage is community property. Mary works but only part-time and as a waitress. From John’s income, the couple pays for Mary’s college tuition at UCLA so that she could become a dentist. Several years later during the marriage, Mary graduates from UCLA dental school and is now a successful dentist. Can the community receive reimbursement for the funds used to pay for Mary’s college education?
Under Family Code section 2641, the community is entitled to reimbursement for contributions to the education or training of a party that substantially ehances the party’s earning capacity. The education for which reimbursement is sought must have substantially ehanced a spouse’s earning capacity. What does this mean? Sue was working as a waitress prior to dental school and now earns a sizeable living as a dentist. In this case, her capacity was substantially enhanced.
Keep in mind that the reimbursable contributions can only be limited to (1) direct payments for education or training or (2) payments on a loan incurred for education or training. Reimburseable contributions must be related to the education experience iteself such as for tuition, books, supplies, fees, transportation etc.