Do Tennessee Courts Treat Student Loans As Marital Or Separate Debt?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explored who is responsible for student loan debt acquired before a couple gets married. The growing student loan burden on recent college graduates has been well reported in the media with undergraduate tuition becoming more expensive each year. While an undergraduate degree has become very Student Loan Debt Divorce expensive, the financial burden associated with a medical, legal or business degree can be enormous. How does divorce impact such educational debt? Who is left footing the bill for student loan debt when a marriage ends in Tennessee?

Tennessee is an equitable distribution state meaning family courts separate marital property and debt according to what the court deems is fair and equitable to both spouses. Whether or not a Tennessee court will treat student loans as marital or separate debt depends on when the spouse took on the debt, whether the other spouse benefitted from taking on the loan, and which spouse is financially able to repay it.

Generally, if one spouse took on all his or her student loans before he or she got married, the loans are considered separate debt. If the student gets married and then takes out more loans, the court may consider other equitable factors to determine whether it is marital debt, such as the ability of the student to repay the loans as compared to the other spouse. Even if the entire student loan debt was taken on during the marriage, the court will consider it to be marital debt if the spouse can show that the debt benefitted both spouses. If both spouses lived off the student loans or if the education acquired was used to better the lives of both spouses, it likely will be considered marital debt.

Therefore, marriage alone does not transform one person’s separate debt into a joint, marital debt. Instead, the general rule is that any student loan debt that preexists the marriage will remain the sole obligation of that person in the event of a divorce. Only in unusual cases where there is a specific contractual agreement otherwise would the debt be divided following a divorce.

With all that said, separation of student loan debt during divorce proceedings can be tricky because the debts entered into during a divorce can be reapportioned at the discretion of the judge based on a variety of factors including ability to pay. The key to not being responsible for your spouse’s student loan debt is to seek and acquire the services of a competent legal professional. Contact attorney Donna Wagner for a consultation.

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