Dividing up the assets is one of the most important parts of a divorce but splitting up the debts can be just as important. Student loan debt can be especially difficult to deal with during the divorce process.
Many Pennsylvania residents acquire a large amount of student loan debt before entering the marriage, while others acquire their student loan debt during the marriage. Generally, any debt you acquire before you say ‘I do’ is considered separate property and paying it off will be solely your responsibility.
However, a spouse who decided to further their education during the marriage, may get some help from their soon-to-be ex when it comes to paying off their loans. Any debt acquired during the marriage is considered marital debt. Pennsylvania is an equitable distribution state, meaning that a judge will determine the fairest way to divide the debt between divorcing spouses.
Pennsylvania courts will consider a number of factors when dividing up student loan debt during a divorce. First, the court may look at how the loan was used. If the loan was used to cover living expenses for both spouses, it may be classified as shared debt, as both parties benefitted from the loan. However, in cases where the loan was strictly used for one spouse’s educational needs, that spouse may be solely responsible for the debt.
The court will also look at whether you earned a degree and whether your spouse was involved in your education. An earned degree may be considered marital property, and therefore both spouses may be responsible for the debt. However, if a spouse played a significant role in helping the other spouse get their degree, the court may determine they did enough already and should not have to do more.
Lastly, the court will consider the financial status of both spouses and whether one spouse co-signed a loan for the other spouse. A lesser earning spouse who makes significantly less than the other spouse may not be held liable for student loan debt, particularly if the lesser earning spouse was supporting the other spouse’s education instead of focusing on their own career. However, if a spouse did co-sign a loan, they will likely be liable for the debt post-divorce.
Determining who owes what in a divorce can be complicated, but a divorce attorney in your area can help navigate this challenging process.