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Student loan debt: divorce and division

In Pennsylvania and across the United States, married couples often feel stress when they decide to get divorced. In addition to emotional issues, couples must divide their accumulated assets and debts. Student loan debts are more complicated because the court needs to determine which spouse must pay back the loan. One common rule is that a student loan debt occurring before the marriage belongs to the person who took out the loan. The other spouse is not normally accountable for the loan because the court deems it as separate property.

However, deciding which person is responsible for a student loan debt taking place after the couple pronounces their vows is not as simple. Since the debt occurred during the marriage, the court views it as a marital debt subject to either community property rules or equitable distribution laws. Marital property is divided equally in a community property state. The equality of a marital debt also applies to a student loan debt occurring in a community property state.

Since Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, judges look at the details of each case when deciding how to divide a student loan debt. Additionally, a judge may ask the spouses how they used the student loan money they received. If they shared the money to cover rent, groceries and electric bills, both spouses may need to pay back the debt.

Another example is when the student loan is used solely to cover expenses related to attending a university. In this scenario, the student may need to pay back the entire loan without their spouse's help. A couple headed for divorce may want to consult with a divorce attorney prior to filling out any paperwork. A consultation with a divorce lawyer might help the couple prevent serious financial mistakes regarding marital property.

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