After you completed your post-graduate work, perhaps you went on to get your PhD, decided to go to law school or completed med school training. No matter which course you chose, you certainly racked up considerable educational debt. If your spouse also has a professional or academic background, you can add those payments to your family budget.
These loans can be an added complication if you are heading toward divorce. California, unlike other community property states, handles student loans as separate debts during a divorce. However, this does not necessarily mean you will be solely responsible for repaying your educational loans. Depending on the circumstances and the timing surrounding the loans, you may have a case for dividing the debt with your spouse.
A more equitable division of your student loans
If you and your spouse do not reach an agreement on your own, the court will divide your community assets and debts as equally as possible, considering such factors as your ages, the length of your marriage and your abilities to financially support yourselves. If you are concerned that you will have to pay off student loans after your divorce, the court will have many factors to consider, including the following questions:
- Did any of the educational debt occur prior to your marriage? If so, it is not part of your joint liabilities.
- Did you use any of the student loan money to support the family, such as paying rent or living expenses? If so, your spouse may share partial responsibility for it.
- Did you provide support of any kind while your spouse completed his or her educational process? Your role in caring for the house, tending to the children or transporting your spouse to classes may count as payment toward your share of the debt.
- Are you earning a lower income now because you sacrificed your own career for your spouse’s? If so, the court may reduce the amount of the loans you will end up responsible for after the divorce.
- Did you co-sign your spouse’s loans? If so, you may be legally responsible for half of the balance.
Perhaps your spouse did not work while going to school, and your income paid the bills. Perhaps you helped your spouse pay down his or her educational debt with the understanding that your spouse would eventually do the same for you. All of these and other factors will be important when you make your case in court. With these complex matters involved, you would be wise to have a strong legal advocate in your corner, whether you are negotiating with your spouse or facing off in court.