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Student Loan Debt

In its article titled: “Has Student Loan Debt Impeded Your Romantic Relationships?” the American Bar Association discussed a new phenomenon experienced by some graduates of institutions of higher learning. This experience includes being rejected romantically, or losing a relationship, because of student loan debt. The article highlights the story of an Art teacher, with nearly $80,000 worth of student loan debt, who reports being dumped as a result of her debt. Although it may be interesting to follow the trend regarding the dissolution of relationships as a result of student loan debt, a slightly more interesting issue is: What happens to student loan debt in a divorce?

In Georgia, upon divorce, marital property, assets and debt are not divided equally or 50/50 as they are in community property states like California. Georgia is an equitable division state. This means that upon divorce, marital property is divided “equitably,” or fairly, according to the determination of a judge or jury hearing the facts of the case. Fuller v. Fuller, 621 S.E.2d 419 (2005) and Arkwright v. Arkwright, 284 Ga. 545 (2008).

However, only marital property, or property that was acquired during the marriage is subject to equitable division. Payson v. Payson, 274 Ga. 231 (2001). Separate property, or property acquired prior to the marriage, or property acquired by gift, inheritance, bequest or devise during the marriage, is generally not subject to equitable division. Bailey v. Bailey, 250 Ga. 15 (1982).

Although there is no case law directly on point regarding the division of student loan debt upon divorce, applying current Georgia case law to the issue, it is likely that student loan debt would be treated just like any other property or debt upon the dissolution of a marriage. Thus, if the student loan debt was acquired prior to the marriage, it will likely be treated as separate property, and the spouse who accrued the debt will remain solely liable for its repayment. However, if the debt was acquired during the marriage, especially if the debt is titled in the names of both spouses, the issue of how the debt may be divided upon divorce becomes more complex.

Although financial issues like the repayment of debt are issues that are best discussed and resolved prior to or during the marriage, unfortunately it is often only upon divorce that these issues are raised and resolved. Thus, if you are currently considering, or going through, a divorce, and you have questions about the division of your assets and debts upon divorce, contact one of themany knowledgeable Family Law Attorneys at Meriwether & Tharp, LLC. We will be more than glad to assist you.

By A. Latrese Martin, Law Clerk, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC

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