How Do Student Loans Impact Divorce?

Divorce and Student Loans in Pennsylvania

More and more Pennsylvanians with student loan debt are divorcing. This is causing many people to ask questions such as:

  • Are my student loans marital debt?
  • Will my student loans be considered when dividing the marital estate during equitable distribution?
  • Will my child support or spousal support be lowered if I have a significant student loan debt?

Student Loans as Marital Debt in Equitable Distribution

If the student loan debt is incurred during the marriage, then it is considered a “marital debt”. While marital debts are typically divisible during equitable distribution, Pennsylvania law has made a significant distinction for student loan debt.

In the 2000 case, Hicks v. Kubit, the Pennsylvania Superior Court was tasked with determining whether a student loan taken by one spouse during marriage was marital debt, and whether that debt should be split between the parties. The court first ruled that the debt was marital, merely because of when the debt was incurred. Next, and most importantly, the court ruled that the only portion of a student loan debt divisible between the spouses is the portion (if any) that was used for living expenses for both spouses; the portion of the debt that was used for school-related expenses (i.e., tuition or books) for the student spouse will remain the responsibility of that spouse. Therefore, a spouse who has a significant student loan obligation should not assume that this debt will be lessened through the divorce process.

Student Loan Debt and Child Support

Child support is generally determined using a schedule and formula provided by Pennsylvania law. In certain instances, a support obligor can receive a deviation from their support obligation. Theoretically, it may be possible for an obligor to receive a downward deviation in a case where the obligor’s student loan debt far outweighs their income or assets. There is, however, no current case in Pennsylvania which has this holding. In fact, attorney Jessica Smith recently and successfully argued to the Superior Court, in a non-precedential decision, that a downward deviation was improper when a support obligor had a sizeable student loan debt, but more than sufficient income.

If you are in Central Pennsylvania and wondering how your student loan obligations will impact your divorce or support case, please Contact Us.