A recent Businesswire article stated that 44 million Americans owe student loan debt. If you are one of them and you file for divorce in New York, then who is responsible for paying it off?

It actually depends on when you took out the loans. If you received them in your name while you were still single, then you will generally be responsible for maintaining payments after divorce. However, if you incurred the debt while married, then the courts tend to review factors like the following to determine how much your spouse should pay, if any of it.

What the money was used for

If you spent the loan funds exclusively on educational costs like tuition, books, and supplies, then the court will probably treat the loan as your personal debt, because your spouse didn’t benefit directly from the money. On the other hand, if you spent any of it on living expenses like rent for the marital home and groceries for the family, then the debt will likely be declared marital.

Who benefits from the increased earning ability?

If you earned your degree and started making more money for several years before the divorce, then your spouse has arguably benefited from the way that the degree increased your earning power, and they may be ordered to help pay off your student loan. If you divorce not long after graduation, though, then a court will not be inclined to order your spouse to pay for a degree that did not improve their circumstances in any way.

Each party’s income

New York is an equitable distribution state, meaning that any marital assets and debts will be divided according to whatever arrangement appears to be most fair to both sides. If you took out the student loan, but your spouse earns a lot more than you do, then they may be ordered to help you pay it off.

For example, if you acquired the loan to become a business coach, but you’re still building your client base, and your spouse is a doctor or engineer, then the court may consider their ability to pay vs. yours when dividing the debt.

It is important to note that these factors are only guidelines: there is no statutory standard for dividing student loan debt in divorce. Every case is handled according to its unique circumstances, and how much your spouse will have to assist you (if at all) will depend on several variables.

When you engage a New York divorce attorney, provide them with details about your student loan debt. They will advise you on how the court is likely to view the obligation and recommend ways to bring about a fair outcome. Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, NY divorce and family court lawyer with more than 36 years of legal experience. Call 718-514-6619 to set up a consultation or click here to learn more.