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Does Student Loan Debt Get Split in a Divorce?

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In years past, the biggest debts couples had to face during a divorce were credit card bills and mortgages. These days, however, student loans are often the primary concern for couples in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s. This is because student loan debt can sometimes be as significant as a small mortgage – and that could be the case for just one spouse’s debt.

It goes without saying, then, that many people are becoming increasingly concerned about what happens to student loan debt during a divorce. Does it get split? Is the person who created the debt responsible for it? Does it make a difference if student loans were taken out before or during marriage?

We’ll address these questions by taking a closer look at this issue below.

Assigning Student Loan Debt during Divorce

California is a community property state. This means that when a divorce occurs, each spouse should receive 50% of the community assets and debts. “Community” simply refers to both spouses and the assets and debts they acquired during a marriage and before a legal separation or divorce. At face value, it seems like this should also be the case for student loan debt, but California treats this matter a little differently.

The state views education as something that benefits a person for the rest of their life, which includes the life they live after their divorce. As a result, California generally doesn’t make one spouse liable for the other’s student debt after divorce. The presumption the courts begin with is that the community (both spouses) doesn’t benefit from the education the student-spouse received and took on debt to afford (typically in marriages lasting 10 or fewer years).

That said, there are some notable exceptions, pursuant to Family Code Section 2641.

These exceptions include the following:

  • Both spouses in the marriage actually did significantly benefit from the education or training the other party received.
  • Both spouses received education or training paid for with community assets.
  • The court will consider how spousal support may be impacted by either party’s level of education when assigning debt obligations

If one spouse saddled with student debt believes the other should be responsible for some of it after the divorce, they must prove that one of these exceptions holds true.

Are You Concerned about Debt Assignment during Your Divorce?

Although California law states each spouse is 50% responsible for community debts, there may be nuanced circumstances in your situation that should be taken into account. Whether you wish to fight against taking a portion of debt or fight to have your ex-spouse pay their fair share of debt, our attorneys at Claery & Hammond, LLP can be there to help.

For more information or a free consultation, please contact us online today!

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