Given the high cost of higher education, student loans carried by either or both spouses can weigh heavily on financial decisions and life choices. Often it can delay the purchase of a house or starting a family. This can cause a great deal of stress. It’s not surprising that 13% of divorced people say student loans were the major cause of their divorce.

But who pays the loans after you split? There’s no easy answer to this question. You might think that the spouse who got the loan pays for the loan, but there are many factors.

  • Was the loan incurred before or after marriage?  Here in Pennsylvania, loans acquired during a marriage will be considered marital property.
  • Did the other spouse supply support, such as delaying education, taking over additional responsibilities, or taking another job while the incurring spouse was in school?
  • Did the supporting spouse help pay down the debt already?
  • Was a degree earned?
  • How long were you married after the degree?
  • Did the degree lead to a lucrative career from which both parties benefited?
  • How well can the other spouse support himself or herself without the incurring spouse’s income?

The determination of whether the loans are considered separate property or marital property is the most fundamental factor, before other considerations are made. In a community property state, marital property, including debt, is split 50/50. In an equitable distribution state, the factors listed have much more weight when determining the distribution of the debt.

If the loan was incurred before marriage, it is considered separate property – generally. But if the degree was subsequently incurred once married and both spouses benefited from the degree, the loan may be considered to have been incurred in order to attain marital property, and therefore it will be considered marital debt. If a degree was not earned or no benefit came from the degree, it would likely remain separate property. The spouse who incurred the debt would be solely responsible for it.

In some situations, the support provided by the other spouse may actually be considered a loan in kind, which could offset the supporting spouse’s portion of the incurring spouse’s loan debt.  It is important to note, when we work with you on equitable distribution of assets and debts, the loan may still fall primarily on the party who attended school.

The best approach when dealing with these muddy waters is to enlist the help of a lawyer with expertise in the area of student loan debt. The lawyer will be able to give you the likely scenarios for your particular situation and come up with a presentation of facts that will best benefit you. Talk to us to see what we can do for you.