In my practice as a family lawyer in Dallas, TX, I have heard some pretty outlandish claims about what divorcing spouses expect to receive through a divorce. But one of the recent trends -- about which there is surprisingly little case law -- is the fight over how to divide the debt of cosmetic and elective surgery (such as gastric bypass surgery).
Now a $10+ billion industry, plastic surgery is becoming increasingly common. Last year, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that over 14.6 million plastic surgery procedures were performed in the United States.
What is troublesome behind the growth of this practice is the increasing connection between plastic surgery and divorce. One recent figure suggests that 40 percent of women who undergo plastic surgery end up leaving their partner who supported them through the surgery.
This is a particularly volatile issue when the plastic surgery was fairly recent. In a few of my cases this year, one of the parties filed for divorce as soon as they recovered from either a significant round of plastic surgery or a gastric bypass. Now that they had their new "look," they were ready to leave for greener pastures.
And here is the troubling news for the husbands who bought their soon-to-be-ex-wives a new set of buns, breasts or lips: no, you may not repossess them. They are an unsecured asset. And due to the lack of case law, the cost of this "investment" may not be reflected in your equitable division of the marital estate.
However, for the divorcing spouse who wants to recover their money spent for plastic surgery, there are some interesting questions to ponder:
- Was the surgery planned together? Or did you not even know about it until after it was done? Of course, if you were campaigning to get your wife cosmetically altered, this will also affect the allocation of medical debt in the division on final settlement.
- Did you get to enjoy the benefits of the surgery? Use your imagination.
- Was the surgery paid from community funds or separate property? In other words, did she use separate property inheritance or was it a "gift" that you gave her for Mother's Day or a 40th birthday present? If the latter, gifts are typically considered separate property that are not factored into the division of the community estate.
- Was the surgery paid in full or financed? If paid with credit card, it is easier to make an argument that the surgically altered party who benefited must pony up the cash to pay off the debt since they alone will continue to benefit from it.
While the "mommy makeover" is all the rage, this issue comes up more than you would imagine. If your spouse is lobbying for you to get them plastic surgery, you need to seriously consider whether (s)he is planning to leave you as soon as the scars are healed.
And in the event that you do split after a surgery, be sure that your Inventory and Appraisement includes any plastic surgery and debts that stem from it to assess the "just and equitable division of assets." Remember: the asset that the estate paid to enhance is no longer yours to enjoy.
Of course, if you do get stuck with the bill, you could join the growing trend towards "revenge surgery," a post-divorce attempt to show your ex what they lost. In fact, according to Dr. Oz, there is even an increasing trend among plastic surgeons to offer a substantial discount to post-divorce clients looking for "vengeance plastic surgery."