Divorce is an emotional and complicated process for anyone, but for doctors and other medical professionals many unique complications can arise that require special attention. A doctor’s personal and financial future may be seriously impacted by the outcome of a divorce, as his or her medical license, ethical standing, and professional career will be put under a microscope during the divorce process. If you’re a doctor in Texas and are considering divorce, the following guide is for you.
1. Hire an experienced divorce attorney that is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization who has worked with other doctors and medical professionals.
Many doctors choose to be represented by their healthcare or corporate counsel in their divorces. They may also hire the first attorney they find on the internet. Just like doctors, attorneys specialize in certain areas of practice and hiring someone without experience in family court or with divorce will be detrimental to your case in the long run. Texas is a community property state, meaning that all property and income accumulated during the marriage by spouses in the marriage belong jointly to the couple. This can include real estate, professional practices, trusts, LLCs, businesses, employment benefits, retirement accounts, and stock options. Family law attorneys are familiar with representing doctors and know about the complex earnings and property ownership of various related professional items, including private physician’s practices.
2. Disclose everything to your counsel – do not leave anything out.
Doctors, and other clients, often fail to be candid with their lawyers and do not disclose bad behavior or problems that may arise during the divorce process. This can be detrimental and have serious consequences. Withholding information – including the existence of an affair, funds spent on illegal substances, problems with a medical practice, and drug or alcohol abuse – will prevent your attorney from doing their job. Attorneys who are aware of all potentially damaging information can often neutralize it and make sure that it does not derail the divorce process.
3. Obtain an accurate valuation of your medical practice.
The valuation of a doctor’s medical practice or the interest they hold in a practice is frequently a contested issue during a divorce. Doctors may understate or overstate the value of their practice or of their interest in a practice. When it comes to the valuation of a medical practice, one must distinguish between personal goodwill and commercial goodwill. In Texas, personal goodwill does not possess value and is not considered an asset. Commercial goodwill relates to the practice’s reputation and its ability to attract and retain patients. Commercial goodwill can potentially be considered an asset during divorce and an experienced divorce attorney will know how to work with experts to appropriately value it for property division purposes.
4. Insist on a confidentiality agreement.
Many doctors fail to ask for a confidentiality agreement to protect their patients and other confidential or proprietary information related to their practice. This could include financial or other business information that if misused could damage the doctor’s reputation or practice. Confidentiality agreements can limit the spread of information to certain people involved in the divorce, which protects a physician’s patients and practice.
5. Adhere to all deadlines and requests for information – even if you are busy at work.
Being a doctor takes an immense amount of time and energy. Focusing on patients is the number one priority, however, do not let that prevent you from meeting all required deadlines during the divorce process. While gathering documents and meeting with your divorce counsel may be a low priority compared to treating patients, deadlines must be met for the process to be finalized in a reasonable amount of time. Disregarding deadlines and requests for documentation can only make the experience more difficult for everyone involved and could result in monetary sanctions.
6. Try to set realistic expectations.
Doctors going through the divorce process often have unrealistic expectations of what the outcome of their divorce case might be as well as how long a divorce can take. Every divorce is unique and the complexity and timeline for each will revolve around your specific circumstances. What a friend, family member, or coworker went through in their divorce is not what you will face. Discuss the possible range of outcomes with your divorce attorney and try to be open and accepting of their estimated timeline for the process.
7. Spousal support may get complicated.
Divorces involving doctors tend to also involve high net worth estates. Larger marital estates can be complex and involve many different investments and other financial holdings. This matters greatly when determining spousal support and property division. One spouse will often support the other financially during their time at medical school, which has to be considered when determining spousal support and in the division of the estate. Medical school debt may also complicate the issue as well.
8. Prioritize caring for your children.
Doctors may not be able to have as active of a role as stay-at-home parents as caregivers for their children, given many have busy and unpredictable schedules. Make sure to not only spend time with your children but also to be prepared to schedule daycare, take kids to school, go to parent-teacher meetings, and more. Also have a plan for childcare if you are called to the hospital in the middle of the night for a medical emergency. Having reliable childcare contacts and plans will be essential to maintaining full or partial custody of your children.
9. Be prepared to rely on experts.
Sometimes experts will be needed to testify during divorce proceedings. When the divorce process starts, an experienced high asset divorce lawyer will have a list of experts that can step in to help. Some examples may include a certified public accountant, therapist, or appraisers. You and your lawyer will likely need to retain the services of these experts early on in the process so they are available if necessary.
If you’re looking for an experienced Texas divorce lawyer who can handle the complexities of divorcing as a doctor, contact Terry & Roberts. We have handled numerous divorces involving doctors, including those with complicated business ventures and prenuptial agreements involved. We can help keep your case private and out of the public eye as you and your spouse work through this difficult experience.