student loan debtStudents graduating from college or graduate schooling with a mountain of student loan debt has become all too common as tuitions continue to rise in the United States. The average amount of debt that a college student graduated with in the class of 2017 was $39,400, and that number is expected to climb. That level of debt can take decades to pay off, and when you combine that level of indebtedness with divorce, things can get extremely complicated.  Though many people think that student debt somehow stands apart from other types of debt, the truth is that it is treated in a very similar way to all other assets and debts in a marriage, and the question of who is responsible for repayment after a couple divorces is often a question of when the debt was incurred: before or during the marriage.

 

When a debt is incurred prior to a marriage taking place, it is typically treated as separate, and not as marital property. But debts incurred during a marriage are generally calculated as part of the equitable distribution process, with “equitable” being the key word. The court will try to divide the debt based on what is fair rather than dividing it down the middle, and fairness often involves looking at a variety of elements, including the income or earning capacity of each partner, each partner’s ability to repay the debt alone, and the amount of support that the partner who was not the student provided in order to allow the student to earn their degree. The court will also give consideration to the degree to which the spouse who the loan didn’t directly benefit was advantaged indirectly by their spouse earning their degree.

 

In most cases, unless student debt has been addressed in a prenuptial agreement, the debt will end up being divided between the two spouses, though each contribution may not be equal. The best way to ensure that the division of your student loans and all other aspects of marital asset and debt distribution is calculated fairly is to make sure you have a compassionate and knowledgeable advocate acting in your behalf. For information on how we can help you with this challenging aspect of divorce, contact our office today to set up a time to come in and talk with us.

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