What Happens to College Payments During a Divorce

Most marriages end in divorce. Different jurisdictions have different rules pertaining to how assets and liabilities are distributed to the parties after a divorce. When young married couples decide to divorce, student loan debt is a common liability that the parties must cope with. Ongoing expenses that may be incurred if one spouse is actively attending college can influence the amount of alimony awarded to a spouse.

How States Treat Assets During Divorce
Our lawyers at Tenn And Tenn, P.A. tell us that states generally fall into three categories when discussing divorce. In community property states and if the parties have not agreed to distribute assets in a certain manner, the court will divide the marital assets in half. If the debt is incurred during the marriage, the courts will view student loan debt as community property. Student loan debt is a liability and hence is subject to being apportioned between the parties.Other states follow a common law rule. For example, New York also seeks to divide marital property equitably. Unlike a common law jurisdiction, however, the court need not divide everything equally. A court that follows a common law rule will consider a wide array of factors in order to achieve what it perceives to be a fair outcome. Such factors include whether one spouse has title to a property, whether a spouse has commercial interests, and the couple’s living arrangements.

Some states stretch the equitable distribution concept even further. Some states, like Massachusetts and New Hampshire, also seek to provide an equitable distribution during the asset and liability allocations. These states uniquely consider all property owned by both parties, regardless of whether the assets were acquired during the marriage or owned personally. The fact that a party owned an asset or a liability prior to marriage may be a factor for consideration, but is not determinate of the outcome.

Responsibility to Pay for an Education

Whether a party is responsible for continuing payments on a divorcing spouse’s student loans varies depending upon the court’s decision. Even in community property states, courts have some degree of latitude in making asset decisions. Most states permit courts to order parties to pay other liabilities if the court finds that it would be in the interests of justice to do so.

If one spouse is actively attending college, the issue becomes one of spousal support. Tuition and literary expenditures may increase one party’s living expenses, which can increase the alimony award. Among other factors, courts will often consider retraining or educational expenses in awarding spousal support to one party. If a party who is receiving alimony is attending college or seeking job retraining, the court may increase the award of alimony accordingly. If a court order is issued compelling one party to pay spousal support, that party must do so regardless of whether he or she agrees with the award.

While courts normally follow statutory guidelines, the goal in most states is to achieve an equitable dissolution of the marriage, not an equal one. In most states, courts have a wide degree of latitude to make decisions regarding asset allocations, liability allocations, and spousal support. Navigating the laws and presenting a compelling case in the pleadings requires the knowledge of an experienced local attorney.


Saam Banai is a freelance writer and editor and proponent of fair dispersal of assets after divorce. If you find yourself in the midst of a divorce and have costly college payments to make in addition to everything else, contact a divorce attorney from the firm, Tenn And Tenn, P.A. Their experienced attorneys are uniquely equipped due to their training and experience to provide large law firm excellence in a more client-centered atmosphere.