With more people obtaining advanced degrees and the cost of higher education continually on the increase, student loan debt is an issue for many Americans nowadays. Little surprise, then, that more and more people are bringing significant student loan debt into marriage. One of the issues that can arise for couples who call it quits is: how will student loan debt be divided in divorce?
The answer to this question cannot be easily answered, as it depends not only on when the debt was incurred, but also how the law treats division of marital property. Student loan debt incurred prior to marriage is usually considered separate property, so it will belong to the party who took out those loans. When student loan debt is incurred during marriage and is therefore considered joint debt, there are other factors to be considered.
Courts looking at student loan debt as marital property can treat it various ways. Community property states, as readers may know, generally take a 50-50 approach to marital property whereas equitable distribution states use an approach that takes various circumstances into account to achieve a fair result in division. Some community property states take an approach where the degree is considered joint property for which the non-degree earner can receive offsets in compensation.
Ultimately, it is important for those contemplating divorce to consult with an experienced attorney to determine what their liability for student loan debt will likely be in the event of divorce. And, if divorce does occur, folks should work with an experienced attorney to ensure their interests are represented.
Source: Forbes, “Who Is Responsible for the Student Loans After Divorce?,” Charlie Wells April 13, 2014.