Washburn v. Washburn, Nos. 49309-0

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtDIMMICK; WILLIAM H. WILLIAMS; ROSELLINI
Citation677 P.2d 152,101 Wn.2d 168
PartiesIn re the Marriage of Marigail WASHBURN, Appellant, v. Gerald R. WASHBURN, Respondent. In re the Marriage of Jack Eugene GILLETTE, Appellant, v. Alice June GILLETTE, Respondent/Cross-Appellant.
Decision Date16 February 1984
Docket NumberNos. 49309-0,49458-4

Page 168

101 Wn.2d 168
677 P.2d 152
In re the Marriage of Marigail WASHBURN, Appellant,
v.
Gerald R. WASHBURN, Respondent.
In re the Marriage of Jack Eugene GILLETTE, Appellant,
v.
Alice June GILLETTE, Respondent/Cross-Appellant.
Nos. 49309-0, 49458-4.
Supreme Court of Washington,
En Banc.
Feb. 16, 1984.

Page 170

[677 P.2d 153] Newton, Newton & Kight, Thomas Adams, Everett, for appellant washburn.

Aitken, Schauble, Patrick & Neill, Robert Patrick, Pullman, for appellant Gillette.

Anderson & Fields, H. Michael Fields, Seattle, for respondent Washburn.

Irwin, Friel & Myklebust, P.S., Timothy Esser, Pullman, for respondent Gillette.

DIMMICK, Justice.

When one spouse supports the other through professional school in the mutual expectation that the community will enjoy the financial benefit flowing from the resulting professional degree, but the marriage is dissolved before that benefit can be realized, should the supporting spouse be compensated? Our answer is yes. The contribution of the supporting spouse to the attainment of a professional degree by the student spouse is a factor to be considered in dividing property and liabilities pursuant to RCW 26.09.080, or in awarding maintenance pursuant to RCW 26.09.090. The Washburn court failed to consider Mrs. Washburn's contribution to her husband's education in any respect. We thus reverse [677 P.2d 154] and remand for consideration of the appropriate compensation due Mrs. Washburn. The Gillette court did value Mrs. Gillette's contribution to Mr. Gillette's education and supplemented its property division with a lump-sum award of $19,000, to be paid over time. We affirm this award.

I

A. Washburn. The parties were married in 1971 while they were juniors at the University of Idaho. Upon their graduation in 1973, both parties worked. In the fall of 1974 they moved to Pullman, Washington so that Mr. Washburn could attend veterinary school at Washington State University. From the fall of 1974 until February 1978 Mr. Washburn attended classes and held summer and part-time employment. During this same period Mrs. Washburn

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worked full time. The parties then moved to Kentucky to allow Mr. Washburn to participate in an internship. Mr. Washburn received his degree in June 1978.

Upon Mr. Washburn's graduation the parties moved to Michigan where Mr. Washburn served an internship. Mrs. Washburn worked full time until their child was born in April 1979. In July 1979 the parties returned to Snohomish, where Mr. Washburn began practice as a veterinarian. They separated in January 1981 and a decree of dissolution was entered in June.

The trial court found that the parties' family home had been sold during the separation and the $4,400 proceeds equally divided. It awarded the remaining community property to the party in possession thereof (approximately $3,500 to Mrs. Washburn and $5,700 to Mr. Washburn) and required Mr. Washburn to pay all community debts, including educational loans. The trial court denied Mrs. Washburn's request for maintenance. The court also declined to characterize Mr. Washburn's degree as property, and refused to admit expert testimony which would have established the value of the degree through comparison of Mr. Washburn's earning potentials with and without it. Finally, it concluded that a judgment in favor of one spouse as against the other as compensation for contribution towards the cost of an education was impermissible.

Mrs. Washburn appeals that portion of the court's conclusion of law relating to Mr. Washburn's degree.

B. Gillette. The parties were married in 1968. In 1970 they both contributed equally to the purchase of a ranch. The ranch operation, however, failed. In 1974 the parties agreed that Mr. Gillette should obtain a degree in veterinary medicine. The trial court, in an unchallenged finding of fact, found that at this time the parties both anticipated they would share equally in the expected increased earning capacity of Mr. Gillette and agreed to undertake the effort. The court in addition found that Mr. Gillette promised Mrs. Gillette that if she would support him during his years in school, she would never have to work again.

Page 172

Mr. Gillette obtained his undergraduate degree in biology in 1978 from Eastern Oregon State College and was accepted into the veterinary college at Washington State University. The parties separated in October 1981. During Mr. Gillette's schooling and while the parties were together, Mrs. Gillette worked full time, contributing her income and money from a personal injury settlement. She turned down offers of job promotions so that she could move with her husband to Washington State University. Mr. Gillette worked part time, and also received gifts from his father and disability payments. Mr. Gillette obtained his degree in veterinary medicine in 1982. A decree of dissolution was entered in March 1983.

The trial court found that the parties' lifestyle had been modest and their net worth diminished during the time Mr. Gillette had attended school. It affirmed the parties' own division of their community property (approximately $13,295 to Mrs. Gillette and $7,540 to Mr. Gillette). It charged Mr. Gillette with the educational loans incurred prior to and after separation. Mrs. Gillette agreed to pay past taxes.

[677 P.2d 155] The trial court concluded that neither the professional degree nor the increased earning capacity resulting from that degree were property subject to division. However, it awarded Mrs. Gillette a judgment of $19,000 as an "equitable right to restitution," which it calculated as follows:

During the 7 1/2-year period the Petitioner was in school, the Respondent contributed an excess of $24,000.00 to the community. It is reasonable to assume that she consumed one-half that amount. During that time she lived a more spartan life than would have otherwise been necessary. There is no source of funds at present from which to order immediate repayment. Inflation had a very dramatic effect upon the value of the dollar during the period of the Petitioner's schooling. Petitioner has therefore benefited from the $12,000.00 excess contribution. The wife is receiving property and liabilities with a net value of $8,800.00 more than one-half of the parties' net worth and that sum is therefore subtracted from

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$12,000.00, leaving a $3,200.00 deficit. An additional sum of $12,000.00 should be added to reimburse the wife for 7 1/2 years of reduced living standards and a reduced opportunity to accumulate property. This is based upon the theory that if the Petitioner had worked full-time instead of going to school he would have at least equalled Respondent's earnings, and the Respondent would have benefited from one-half of that increased earning ability. In addition, the wife would have had better working conditions and security had she taken the promotions offered at the time. The $12,000.00 added to $3,200.00 equals $15,200.00. To adjust for inflation, the figure should be increased by 25%, which adds $3,800.00 for a total of $19,000.00.

Conclusion of Law 4, CP 75-76.

The trial court also found Mrs. Gillette was entitled to maintenance in the amount of $1 per year.

Mr. Gillette appeals from the portion of the decree requiring him to pay $19,000 and maintenance. Mrs. Gillette cross-appeals contending Mr. Gillette's increased earning capacity resulting from the education is property which should be valued and divided.

II

The cases at bar are representative of a situation which is so familiar as to be almost a cliche. A husband and wife make the mutual decision that one of them will support the other while he or she obtains a professional degree. The educational years will be lean ones for the family not only because of heavy educational expenses, but also because the student spouse will be able to earn little or nothing. Moreover, the supporting spouse may be called upon to postpone his or her own education or forgo promotions and other valuable career opportunities in order to find a job near the student spouse's school. These sacrifices are made in the mutual expectation that the family will enjoy a higher standard of living once the degree is obtained. But dissolution of the marriage intervenes. Because the family spent most of its financial resources on the degree, there may be few or no assets to be distributed. The student spouse has

Page 174

the degree and the increased earning potential that it represents, while the supporting spouse has only a dissolution decree.

A.

Other courts have responded to this all too common situation in a variety of ways.

A few appellate courts adopt the view that the professional degree (or the enhanced earning potential which it represents) is property which must be valued and distributed upon dissolution of the marriage. These courts differ in their valuation of the degree or earning potential. See Woodworth v. Woodworth, 126 Mich.App. 258, 337 N.W.2d 332 (1983); In re Marriage of Horstmann, 263 N.W.2d 885 (Iowa 1978). 1

[677 P.2d 156] Another line of cases holds that, although a professional degree is not property, the supporting spouse is entitled to restitution of the money he or she spent towards the attainment of the degree, in order to prevent unjust enrichment of the student spouse. The formula used to determine the amount of restitution varies from court to court. See Hubbard v. Hubbard, 603 P.2d 747 (Okl.1979); DeLa Rosa v. DeLa Rosa, 309 N.W.2d 755 (Minn.1981).

Still other courts find the solution in an award of maintenance to the supporting spouse. One court grants "reimbursement alimony" equal to the amount spent by the supporting spouse towards the education. See Mahoney v. Mahoney, 91 N.J. 488, 453 A.2d 527 (1982). Others recognize

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the contribution of the supporting spouse as a basis for awarding maintenance, but do not prescribe a formula for determining the amount. See Moss v. Moss, 80...

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225 practice notes
  • O'Brien v. O'Brien
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • February 11, 1985
    ...One court has recently characterized the situation as "so familiar as to be almost a cliche" (Washburn v. Washburn, 101 Wash.2d 168, 173, 677 P.2d 152, 155). The parties to this action were married in April, 1971. At that time they were both working as teachers in a parochial school. The pl......
  • Underwood v. Underwood, No. 44068–7–II.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • June 3, 2014
    ...maintenance is that the amount and duration, considering all relevant factors, be just.” In re Marriage of Washburn, 101 Wash.2d 168, 178, 677 P.2d 152 (1984).2. Future Earning Capacity ¶ 103 Robert argues that the trial court abused its discretion in setting the maintenance amount because ......
  • Marriage of Weinstein, In re, No. 83-1763
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • October 18, 1984
    ...633 S.W.2d 157); Ohio (Lira v. Lira (1980), 68 Ohio App.2d 164, 428 N.E.2d 445); Washington (Washburn v. Washburn (1984), 101 Wash.2d 168, 677 P.2d 152 (en banc) ).) There are three jurisdictions[128 Ill.App.3d 240] in which some authority may be found to support the contention that a degre......
  • In re Marriage of Van De Graaf, No. 35133-5-III
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • August 29, 2019
    ...to award maintenance is that the amount and duration,Page 24 considering all relevant factors, be just." In re Marriage of Washburn, 101 Wn.2d 168, 178, 677 P.2d 152 (1984). "Where the assets of the parties are insufficient to permit compensation to be effected entirely through property div......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
225 cases
  • O'Brien v. O'Brien
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • February 11, 1985
    ...One court has recently characterized the situation as "so familiar as to be almost a cliche" (Washburn v. Washburn, 101 Wash.2d 168, 173, 677 P.2d 152, 155). The parties to this action were married in April, 1971. At that time they were both working as teachers in a parochial school. The pl......
  • Underwood v. Underwood, No. 44068–7–II.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • June 3, 2014
    ...maintenance is that the amount and duration, considering all relevant factors, be just.” In re Marriage of Washburn, 101 Wash.2d 168, 178, 677 P.2d 152 (1984).2. Future Earning Capacity ¶ 103 Robert argues that the trial court abused its discretion in setting the maintenance amount because ......
  • Marriage of Weinstein, In re, No. 83-1763
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • October 18, 1984
    ...633 S.W.2d 157); Ohio (Lira v. Lira (1980), 68 Ohio App.2d 164, 428 N.E.2d 445); Washington (Washburn v. Washburn (1984), 101 Wash.2d 168, 677 P.2d 152 (en banc) ).) There are three jurisdictions[128 Ill.App.3d 240] in which some authority may be found to support the contention that a degre......
  • In re Marriage of Van De Graaf, No. 35133-5-III
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • August 29, 2019
    ...to award maintenance is that the amount and duration,Page 24 considering all relevant factors, be just." In re Marriage of Washburn, 101 Wn.2d 168, 178, 677 P.2d 152 (1984). "Where the assets of the parties are insufficient to permit compensation to be effected entirely through property div......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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