How are Student Loans Treated in a Divorce?

Unfortunately for many of us, student loans are a weight constantly hanging over our shoulders. Long gone are the days when tuition could be paid off by working a summer job. So how, then, should we look at student loans when getting married or divorced?

Under Pennsylvania law, the term “marital property” means ALL property acquired by either party during the marriage AND the increase in value of nonmarital property. This seems obvious, but it can become more complicated depending on the specific case. When considering marital property, most people think of the house, cars, etc. However, debt is also included in the analysis for equitable distribution of property in a divorce. So, if one party accrued credit card debt solely in their name during the course of the marriage, there is a presumption that this debt is marital. As a martial debt, it has to be divided between the parties just as any equity would be similarly divided.

In the case of student loans, these are more commonly accrued by a party BEFORE the marriage. Therefore, in your typical divorce case, student debt is the responsibility of the individual who accrued it.

So, what does the court do in cases where student loans are taken during the marriage? In this case, the debt was accrued during the marriage, and it will be treated as a martial debt to some extent. However, this does not automatically mean the court would require both parties to equally pay the student loans acquired during the marriage. Rather, that decision is to be based on the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the debt. (Hicks v. Kubit, 758 A.2d 202 (Pa.Super. 2000)). In a narrower view, an education only benefits the person receiving it. Yes, a spouse who obtains a higher education can support the marriage through higher pay, etc. But, through a divorce, the other spouse will no longer benefit from an education gained by the other party. While the court will consider the marital debt in deciding how to split the martial equity, it may still place the responsibility of paying the debt on the person who received the education. (Hicks at 205).

As with anything in the law, a very basic concept can become more confusing depending on the specific case. If you or anyone you know is concerned about student debt through a divorce or before getting married, we welcome them to contact our office and speak with our experienced divorce attorneys in Lancaster PA.