The Washington Supreme Court addressed this problem in In re Marriage of Washburn. The court held that a supporting spouse should be compensated for contributing to the attainment of a student spouse's degree. The court stated that such a contribution is a factor that trial courts must consider in dividing property or in awarding maintenance. It also held that trial courts must consider the future earning prospects of each spouse in making an award. Nonetheless, the court affirmed an award that was limited to restitution of direct expenditures and opportunity costs. A vigorous dissent argued that a professional degree is property subject to distribution, and that the value of the degree is the enhanced earning capacity of the student spouse. This Note first analyzes the court's opinion and concludes that it fails to identify clearly the property nature of the supporting spouse's interest, diverges from desirable trends in property law, and is contrary to compelling social and economic policy. Second, the Note maintains that restitution is an inadequate remedy; a spouse who provides support during a period of professional education should have an equitable interest in the enhanced earning capacity of the student spouse, based on an economic partnership model of marriage. Although some courts and commentators argue that such a solution raises problems of involuntary servitude and speculation, this Note concludes that such problems are of less importance than the need to grant an appropriate expectation remedy to the supporting spouse. Finally, the Note proposes a method of valuing the supporting spouse's interest.
Helen A. Boyer,
Equitable Interest in Enhanced Earning Capacity: The Treatment of a Professional Degree at Dissolution—In re Marriage of Washburn, 101 Wn. 2d 168, 677 P.2d 152 (1984),
60 Wash. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/wlr/vol60/iss2/8