A woman who worked to put her husband through college and medical school before they were divorced can get her money back, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today.
But she is not entitled to part of the value of the medical degree she helped him earn, the court said.
The court established the principle that a woman is entitled to the out-of-pocket expenditures she made for her husband in a case involving Elena DeLa Rosa, who worked so that her then-husband, Pedro DeLa Rosa, could get his education in California and at the University of Minnesota.
The court said she was entitled to recover the money she provided for his living and direct educational costs, which the court calculated came to $11,400. That, however, was less than she had hoped for.
Writing for the court, Associate Justice Douglas K. Amdahl said Elena DeLa Rosa had been the "primary source" of the couple's income while she worked as a teacher, youth employment and college admissions director and as a reporter for The Minneapolis Tribune, a position she still holds.
The husband's contributions to joint living expenses were "nominal," Amdahl said. The couple was divorced before he got his University of Minnesota medical degree in 1980.
Amdahl observed the that case involved a "common situation" for a wife whose sacrifice is made with the expectation of a higher future standard of living.
He added that because the working wife's income is absorbed by household expenses there is little property to be divided at divorce time.
Still, despite the court's sympathy for women in this situation, Amdahl's decision said that the lower court where the divorce was granted was too generous when it awarded her $29,669 for "equitable restitution." That figure included her living expenses, which were subtracted to reach the $11,400 award she got.
The Minnesota decision also rejected the ex-wife's contention that she had a property right in her former husband's medical degree, the "present value" of which was estimated to be $246,478.
Amdahl rejected this claim on the grounds that the divorce took place in 1977, prior to the time Pedro DeLa Rosa got his degree and entered medical practice.