Doctors are in the practice of saving lives. When they can’t save their marriages, the fact that they’re a doctor can make the divorce even more difficult.
When it comes to property division in divorce, being a doctor can complicate an already complicated situation. According to statistics, one in three married physicians will go through a divorce, which isn’t all that surprising, given the fact that physicians often work long hours and sometimes have to put the needs of their patients before their own or their family’s. there are many factors that contribute to divorce, but among doctors here are some common reasons:
- The inherent demands of the job;
- The emotional work experiences of physicians, particularly those in surgical and psychiatric specialties;
- Marrying before medical school graduation;
- Expressing more anger under stress
Divorces in general are often complicated situations, but in the case of a medical doctor with significant property and assets or high net worth, it can be even more so.
Marital Property Division in California Divorces
One of the most important things to consider when filing for divorce is that California is a community property state, which means that all assets and debts acquired during the marriage belong to both spouses equally and must therefore be equally divided in divorce, which is why many medical doctors in California insist on a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. If you are a medical doctor in Los Angeles and you opened your practice after getting married, the financial value of the practice or the increase in the practice’s value during the marriage could be subject to a 50-50 split during your divorce. Even if your practice was already established when you were married, but your spouse gave up a potentially promising career to further your own aspirations or worked in the office at a reduced pay or without any pay, your spouse may be entitled to a share of the practice in divorce.
When it comes to property division, the divorcing couple must do three things: determine whether the property or debt is marital or separate, agree on a value for the marital property, and decide how to divide the marital property equally. The division of marital property in California is final, which is why it’s important that you obtain the best possible result from the outset, and this is where having an experienced family law attorney on your side is immensely helpful.
Medical Practice and Property Division
When a physician gets divorced the value of the medical practice as a financial asset must be determined. These days, most doctors belong to a partnership or group practice. A knowledgeable family law attorney like the ones at Divorce Lawyers Los Angeles will ask the following key questions to get the evaluation process started:
What kind of entity is the group practice?
Was it established before or during the marriage?
How was the practice funded?
Was stock issued to any participants?
Is there a buy/sell agreement for the business?
Is there any future vesting of ownership/stock the participant could be entitled to after the divorce is finalized if the participant acquired such a right during the marriage?
You’ll want to make sure you have all this information because it will affect the valuation of the practice. Chances are your lawyer will suggest working with an accountant with experience in assessing the value of medical practices specifically. That accountant will examine tangible and financial assets, accounts receivable, office equipment and furniture, the office lease and the overall value of the practice including profitability.
The valuation may also include what is known as “goodwill.” Goodwill is considered an intangible asset and means the expectation of continued patronage of the practice, or whether the physician will continue to be able to maintain as well as increase the number of patients. To asses this, many things are considered, including the physician’s age, health, skills, knowledge, reputation and earning power. The length of time the practice has been open, the location of the practice, and the existing patients will all be taken into consideration when determining “goodwill.”
Other liabilities to consider include insurance costs, taxes due, contributions to retirement plans and loans.
An accountant will also make sure that the divorcing partner has been receiving his or her fair share of income from the practice and that the amount is equivalent to what the other partners are receiving. You will need to be forthright with your financial information. Any effort to misrepresent your income could be considered fraud. It’s also advised that you notify your partners in practice of the impending divorce. In certain situations the divorce might become their legal problem as well.
In many jurisdictions a non-physician cannot own a medical practice or employ a physician. Legally, a spouse who is not a physician cannot, under any circumstances, take over a share of a medical practice. This is important to remember because that means a spouse that is not a physician cannot become an “owner” of the practice as part of a divorce settlement.
Divorcing spouses will need to arrive at a financial settlement based on the value of the practice. If spouses are unable to decide, it will be left up to the court to decide for both parties.
If you are able to, you should include in practice agreements a stipulation that if the marriage of one of the partners or participants is dissolved, all of that member’s stock in the practice is forfeited. (It may be possible for the doctor in the divorce to buy back into the practice once the divorce is completed.
Additional Legal Mistakes
It’s essential that if you are a doctor and you are facing divorce that you choose an attorney with substantial experience in the process. Some of the most costly legal mistakes doctors make in a divorce include:
- Hiring an inexperienced attorney
- Failing to disclose damaging personal and/or business information to their attorney
- Failing to insist on a confidentiality agreement to protect their patient list and other confidential information related to the practice
- Understating or overstating the value of their medical practice
- Disregarding important deadlines and requests for information
- Never having had an active role in the care of their children
- Failing to consider tax consequences
- Failing to make a complete inventory of assets and debts
Working with a lawyer that is skilled with not only physician involved divorces, but also skilled with high-net-worth divorces is crucial to having the best result in your divorce.
Understanding What Divorce Means for You
Divorce is often complicated and messy, and even in situations where both spouses agree to dissolve the marriage, a divorce is not always a straightforward resolution, especially for medical doctors. A divorce can have serious consequences on your children, friends and relatives, and if you own your own medical practice, on your employees and on the practice itself. Many physicians in Los Angeles have toiled for years and sacrificed a great deal in other parts of their lives to build successful medical practices. What they don’t realize is that, in the event of a divorce, if their spouse claims the practice as marital property and demands payment of cash or other assets, their practice could be at stake.
There are also the issues of spousal support, or alimony, and child support to consider, both of which you may be ordered to pay if you get a divorce and you are the higher-earning spouse and/or if your children live with your spouse the majority of the time. During divorce proceedings, the court can decide which spouse gets custody of the children (if the couple has children together), what amount of child support or alimony will be paid, and how to divide the marital property. It’s also important to note that California is a no-fault divorce state, which means proof of misconduct has no bearing on the judge’s decision to grant a divorce, though it may be relevant to other decisions, including the calculation of spousal support.
How an Experienced Medical Doctor Divorce Lawyer Can Help
Going through a divorce can be complicated, stressful and exhausting, and many times, couples will disagree on how their property should be divided, which can cause the divorce proceedings to drag on longer than anticipated. Because so many different issues can arise from a divorce filing, it’s important that you have a knowledgeable California family law attorney on your side who has a proven track record in Los Angeles divorce cases. Simply put, an attorney with experience representing medical doctors in Los Angeles divorce proceedings can make the divorce process significantly easier on you and your family. Our attorneys at Divorce Lawyers Los Angeles are committed to protecting your rights under California law and will work tirelessly to minimize the emotional and financial consequences of a divorce and help you obtain a fair settlement in your case.
Free Medical Doctor Divorce Consultation in Los Angeles
One of the most contentious legal issues arising from Los Angeles divorce proceedings is the division of property and assets, and this is especially true for medical doctors with a high net worth. The adverse consequences of a divorce can have an effect on the rest of your life, and as in other areas of family law practice, the first step towards success in a medical doctor divorce case is hiring the right attorney to represent your best interests. If you are considering filing for divorce in Los Angeles, or if you have been served divorce papers by your spouse, and one of you is a medical doctor, contact Divorce Lawyers Los Angeles today at (213) 550-4600 for a free initial consultation.
Divorce Lawyers Los Angeles
5455 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (213) 550-4600