Dannenbaum Law Firm, PLLC

Divorce requires sorting out who owes student loans

When Virginia couples consider ending their marriage, property division will come to mind. Many forget to realize, however that the process includes splitting marital debts. Student loans represent a common form of debt, and the court will determine who bears the obligation to pay them off, unless the couple can otherwise agree.

The timing of the loans is a factor. A person who takes out a student loan prior to a marriage will have sole responsibility for it because it is a nonmarital debt. A student loan obtained during a marriage, however, has the status of marital debt. The law views it as shared property like any other form of marital debt like mortgages, car loans, personal loans and credit card balances.

As an equitable distribution state, Virginia has established laws that allow a court to make decisions about how a marital student loan might be divided between the ex-spouses or assigned to a single party. For example, if one person earns a high income but the other person does not and the debt burden could impose hardship, then the court might balance the obligation by requiring the payment of temporary spousal support.

In an uncontested divorce, the couple might want to take the decision out of the court's hands and attempt to negotiate a comprehensive settlement agreement. This could be aided by having the input of each party's separate family law attorney. If the couple is unable to resolve one or more of these issues in such a manner, however, they might want to consider going through mediation as an alternative to litigation.

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