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How student loans are affected by divorce

College education in Colorado and around the U.S. has become so expensive that it could be decades before many recent graduates pay off their student loans. Students who took out loans to help pay for their education had an average of $29,400 of debt upon their graduation in 2012, according to one source. For a married couple, it may not be unusual for the household to have a total of $100,000 or more in student loans.

Paying off those loans may be a significant drag on the family’s finances. And financial problems are a significant reason for many divorces. This begs the question of what happens to the student loans during a divorce.

Many debts are part of the marital property. But in general, student loans are not. Debts that are acquired before the marriage usually are not considered to be marital property, unless the spouses make a contractual agreement that says otherwise. If one or both of the spouses takes out student loans, that may be a different situation, depending on in whose name the loan was taken out.

During the marriage, both spouses’ incomes might go toward paying their collective student loans. But if the marriage ends, a spouse who has significantly more student loans that the other should not necessarily expect to shed a big portion of the debt.

However, there could be options for relief. For example, if there is a big difference in income between the parties, the lower-income party may be able to point to his or her heavy student loans to help make a case or spousal support.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Who Is Responsible for the Student Loans After Divorce?” Charlies Wells, April 13, 2014

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