In re Marriage of Graham
574 P.2d 75 (1978)

  • While the Grahams were married, she worked and he went school getting an MBA.
  • Just after graduation they filed for divorce and headed to Court to split up their assets.
    • Mrs. Graham requested no alimony as part of the settlement.
  • The Trial Court found that Mr. Graham’s MBA was, as a matter of law, jointly owned property to which Mrs. Graham had a property right. Mr. Graham appealed.
    • The Trial Court estimated that the MBA was worth $82k, and awarded Mrs. Graham $33k.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Mrs. Graham appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that an education is not a property. However, Mr. Graham’s increased earnings potential was a factor to be considered when determining alimony and/or property division.
  • The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court
    • The Colorado Supreme Court looked to the definition of property and found that an education has none of the traditional characteristics of property.
      • For example, it can’t be sold, transferred or inherited.
        • He does have the ‘right to use’, which is one of the sticks in the bundle of property rights sticks.
      • An MBA is more of an achievement that may potentially assist in the future acquisition of property.
    • The Court found that Mrs. Graham should properly use Mr. Graham’s MBA as a factor in determining alimony, not as a direct property to be divided.
  • In a dissent, it was argued that the MBA was the only thing of value that the couple had. It was also argued that if they had stayed together longer, Mrs. Graham would certainly be entitled to a percentage of the property that was bought with Mr. Graham’s increased earnings.
  • There were several things Mrs. Graham could have done differently:
    • Pre-nuptual agreement.
    • She could have made Mr. Graham take out a loan during the wedding, instead of paying for it directly. That way, after a divorce, he’d remain liable to pay the loan.
  • Other courts have agreed with the idea that education isn’t property, but used the reasoning that it is too speculative to value, as opposed to the reasoning used in this case.
    • New Jersey Courts invented the concept of reimbursement alimony. It allows people in situations like this to get reimbursed for their contribution to their spouse.
    • New York Courts have found that a degree is property and should be factored into the property division.