Ask anyone about the divorce rate for doctors, and you are likely to hear that doctors do, in fact, get divorced far more often than other professionals—and far more often than the general population. If you happen to be speaking about female physicians in particular, then that information is, at least partially, correct. Clichés to the contrary, divorce is actually less common than for other professions. The speculation has long been that doctors keep long hours and have more stress and professional obligations than those in other professions, therefore this must create discord at home. A study published in The British Medical Journal calculated statistics from data gleaned from:
- Nearly 50,000 physicians;
- More than 10,000 dentists;
- Almost 14,000 pharmacists;
- Close to 160,000 nurses;
- Nearly 20,000 healthcare executives;
- More than 59,000 lawyers, and
- More than 6 million other non-healthcare professionals.
The data was collected between 2008 and 2013 and found that doctors actually had the lowest probability of currently being divorced. Further, doctors were the least likely of all the medical professions—other than pharmacists—to have been married more than once. As compared to 28 percent of attorneys, 37 percent of workers who were not in the healthcare profession, 25 percent of dentists, 33 percent of nurses and 31 percent of healthcare executives, only 24 percent of physicians in the sample had ever been divorced.
Female Physicians More Likely to Be Divorced Than Other Professional Females
Female doctors, on the other hand, actually reinforce the stereotype of the divorced physician. As compared to their male physician counterparts, female doctors were more likely—one and a half times more likely—to have been divorced, and, in fact, the divorce rates of female physicians is similar to that of the general population. It is important to note that among divorces from all walks of life, women who worked more than 40 hours a week are much more likely to be divorced than women who worked a standard 40 hours per week, or less.
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Female physicians will almost always work more than 40 hours per week, then go home to deal with the bulk of domestic chores as well. Females from all sectors who worked more than 40 hours per week were more likely to also have to deal with the stress and long hours of their job, as well as running a household and possibly rearing children. In short, female physicians are often forced to make tradeoffs that male doctors probably never even consider.
Certain Medical Specialties May Have Higher Divorce Rates
You may wonder how the stereotype of the oft-divorced doctor actually came about. More than three decades ago, several small, non-representative samples (some taken at a single hospital) did show doctors were more likely to be divorced. Apparently, a “fact” that was even questionable at the time, grew into an urban legend. One study, done by Johns Hopkins, in 1997, went a step further, and examined the divorce rate among doctors, according to their particular specialty. The conclusions of this study were that physicians in psychiatry and surgery specialties have a higher risk for divorce than doctors in other specialties.
Factors in Physician Divorces
There was a caveat to the Johns Hopkins study, which was that the stereotype which linked depression and job-related anxiety among doctors to a higher divorce rate simply did not pan out. Instead, the study found that the following issues tended to contribute to a higher incidence of physician divorces:
- The inherent demands of the job;
- The emotional work experiences of physicians, particularly those in surgical and psychiatric specialties;
- Marrying before medical school graduation;
- Being a female physician;
- Being less emotionally close to parents, and
- Expressing more anger under stress.
Factors That Correlate with a Lower Rate of Physician Divorce
While they seem like fairly random associations, physicians who experienced the death of a parent prior to medical school graduation had a significantly lower divorce rate, as did physicians who were members of an academic honor society during medical school. The Johns Hopkins researchers cautioned that the study failed to address the quality of the marriages or the fact that some physicians—like the general population—could stay in a marriage for social or financial reasons. In other words, simply because physicians might have a lower divorce rate, doesn’t actually speak to the happiness of their marriage.
Depression Among Some Physician Specialties Contributes to the Divorce Rate
An article published in The Southern Medical Journal examined not only the rate of divorce among physicians but also the rates of suicide, depression, and substance abuse. In this article, the conclusion was that the suicide rate of physicians is considerably higher than that of the general population—physicians were nearly twice as likely to commit suicide, however, one of the primary risks of physician suicide corresponds to divorce and being widowed. Depression is most likely during medical training, with as many as a third of all medical school students reporting some level of depression.
Among physician specialties, a whopping 73 percent of psychiatrists said they suffered from depression. It is quite likely that this high rate of depression among psychiatrists contributes to the higher rate of divorce among psychiatrists. The authors of the Southern Medical Journal also concluded that the psychology of postponement (while doctors go through medical school and internship) can result in compulsive traits. In fact, compulsive personality traits which may foster professional success, can be the same traits that lead to distance in relationships.
If You are a Doctor Contemplating Divorce in the State of Florida
If you are a physician in the state of Florida who is contemplating divorce or has already filed for divorce, there are two important issues to consider which are related to the profession. The first is the valuation of your professional practice, and the second is the issues associated with a high net worth divorce. You may be a doctor with a thriving medical practice—or the spouse of a doctor with a thriving medical practice. Either way, there are likely going to be questions regarding whether the spouse who is not a physician is entitled to part of the professional practice.
The Part of the Medical Practice Which May Be Considered Marital Assets
A professional license is not considered marital property, and cannot be divided or taken by the other spouse during a divorce. The actual medical practice, however, is a different story. One determining factor in whether a spouse is entitled to a part of the medical practice is whether the value of that practice significantly increased during the marriage, or whether the other spouse contributed to getting the practice up and running (efforts or income). Any increase would, under Florida divorce laws, be considered a marital asset. If the physician spouse added the other spouse’s name to the practice, or if marital funds are commingled with the assets of the medical practice, it could be considered marital property, therefore subject to division.
That being said, there are few judges who would divide a medical practice between spouses, thereby effectively removing the livelihood of the physician spouse. It is much more likely a Florida judge—in the event the two spouses were unable to come to a mutual agreement—would allow the physician to keep his or her medical practice, offsetting the business by awarding assets of approximately the same value to the non-physician spouse. The physician spouse might also be required to “buy out” the other spouse’s interests in the medical practice with cash. In such situations, the medical practice will likely be valuated, through income tax returns, financial statements, liabilities reports, balance sheets, and accounts payable and receivable reports.
Goodwill and Tangible Assets of a Medical Practice
The valuation may include what is known as “goodwill,” along with tangible assets. Goodwill is considered an intangible asset—the expectation of continued patronage, or whether the physician will continue to maintain and increase the number of patients. Goodwill does not necessarily exist in every business, and determining a physician’s goodwill takes into account the physician’s age, health, skills, knowledge, reputation, and earning power. During a valuation of a medical practice, the length of time the practice has been open, the location of the practice, and the existing patients will all be taken into consideration.
Unfortunately, the valuation of a medical practice—or any business, for that matter—can often boil down to a battle of high-priced experts. It could be that you will end up weighing the cost of extended litigation against the division of the medical practice, determining if the fight is worth the end result. Because physicians typically make a significant yearly income, when a doctor divorces, that divorce may be considered a high net-worth divorce, which comes with its own set of complications.
Factors in a Florida High Net Worth Divorce
In a Florida high-net-worth divorce, the spouses may share bank accounts, multiple high-worth properties, investments, and business assets. These assets must all be carefully separated, after it is determined which of the assets are marital assets, and which are non-marital assets. Some of the more common issues associated with a high-net-worth divorce include the following:
- The future earning capacity of both spouses, taking a medical degree, medical license, and medical practice into account. Florida is one of the states which will almost always award some type of spousal support, and the physician’s future earning capacity may dictate spousal support to the non-physician spouse.
- The valuation of the medical practice will come into play in a high-net-worth Florida divorce. If it is determined that the practice will continue to grow and thrive, the non-physician spouse may be awarded a portion of that expected growth.
- Physicians are more likely than the average blue-collar working person to have corporate benefits such as stock options, deferred compensations, retirement funds, 401(k) accounts, IRAs, and good pensions. All these must be assessed, then fairly divided.
- Art collections, country club or other club memberships, timeshares, vacation properties, expensive jewelry and furnishing, and any other type of high net worth collection must be evaluated and fairly divided during the Florida divorce.
- If there were postnuptial or prenuptial agreements, these agreements will be evaluated, and legally adhered to.
- There may be extremely complex tax issues associated with a high net-worth divorce, as well as one where medical practice is involved. These tax issues must be addressed prior to the completion of the divorce.
- Any asset held in trust for either spouse will be valued and divided, as will all real estate, stocks, and bonds.
When Assets are Hidden During a High Net Worth Divorce
Finally, there is the issue of hiding assets, which is, unfortunately, more common during a high net-worth divorce, or a divorce which includes a professional business such as a medical practice. There is a quote attributed to Johnny Carson on the subject of hiding assets—“The difference between a separation and a divorce is that a separation gives the husband time to hide the money.” Unfortunately, divorce does tend to bring out the worst in many people. In particular, the spouse who has a higher-paying job, the spouse who works outside the home, or the spouse who has a lucrative business, such as a medical practice, may attempt to devalue marital assets in order to pay less to the other spouse.
The National Endowment for Financial Education placed the number of spouses who hid assets at nearly one-third (31 percent). To be clear, this is the number of spouses who either got caught hiding marital assets or who admitted they did so, which means the real number is probably higher. It is important to note that there are no legal or ethical ways to hide assets prior to a divorce. Your financial affidavit, required under Florida divorce laws and submitted under penalty of perjury must fully disclose all marital income, assets and debts. If you feel your spouse is hiding assets, tell your Florida divorce attorney, as a forensic accountant may be necessary to ensure all assets are fairly divided.
How Ayo and Iken Can Help
So, despite the clichés, doctors actually don’t get divorced more often than those in other professions. Quite probably, physicians are at least somewhat like all the rest of us—just trying to make a marriage work, or, when it is clear the marriage can’t work, trying to move on with our lives. An experienced Ayo and Iken Florida family law attorney can make that transition much easier, allowing you to go through the normal emotions of a divorce, while he or she ensures the division of your assets and medical practice are equitable.