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Dividing student loan debt during a divorce

These days, many college graduates have at least some student loan debt. The total amount of student debt in the United States topped $1.5 trillion recently, with the average borrower having over $37,000 in debt. 

This debt tends to follow people throughout their lives, including when they marry and divorce. With some couples, one person has a great deal of student loan debt while the other is debt-free. It is natural to worry about accumulating a partner's debt from a divorce. Luckily, Pennsylvania has laws that serve as guidelines for how debt becomes divided. 

Separate property

When one spouse accumulates debt before the marriage, it remains his or her responsibility even when the marriage ends. The law views this kind of debt as "separate property." You may marry, and your spouse may chip in to help pay off the debt. However, anything left over will usually remain yours after divorce. 

Is this true of all debt?

Most people get into debt from student loans while they are still young and unmarried. However, there are other types of debt couples can accrue later in life. A couple may accumulate a massive amount of credit card debt on a card they both share. During a divorce, a judge would likely divide this type of debt among both parties. They both have a responsibility to pay it off, and the debt occurred over the course of the marriage. 

Equitable distribution

In the event the student loan debt occurred during the marriage, a judge may divide it to both parties. This does not mean each spouse will be responsible for paying off 50 percent of the debt. The judge will look at both people's income levels and their abilities to pay off the debt in a timely manner. This results in an equitable distribution of debt rather than a more straightforward, equal division. 

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