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Divorce and student loan debt, part 1: who is responsible for what?

We frequently discuss issues of property division in divorce cases in this blog. But the other side of the coin - dividing debt - should not be forgotten.

The general rule, of course, is that there is shared responsibility among spouses for debt acquired during marriage. As we discussed in our March 10 post, there are some exceptions to this. But mutual responsibility for debt incurred during marriage is the general rule in Arizona.

In this two-part post, we will look at one very specific issue regarding divorce and debt: responsibility for student loans.

This is a very serious issue for many young couples. The average debt load that students carry to get through college now approaches $30,000. And for those who go on to graduate school, the load gets even heavier.

Obviously it takes time to tackle all of that debt. And a marriage may end in divorce long before all of the payments are made.

When dividing up debt in a divorce proceeding, then, one of the basic questions is when the student loan debt was incurred. After all, many people have already taken out loans of significant size before they get married.

Does this type of debt become a marital debt when someone gets married? People often wrongly assume that student debt becomes a joint responsibility upon marriage. But that is not the case; if the debt was from before marriage, it is generally not considered to be a marital debt.

Of course, it is a different situation when the debt was incurred during marriage. We will discuss that aspect of the student loan issue in part two of this post.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Who Is Responsible for the Student Loans After Divorce?" Charlie Wells, April 13, 2014

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