Student loan debt is growing at an alarmingly high rate in the U.S. Higher education is becoming increasingly necessary in order to get good job opportunities. At the same time, tuition costs are unaffordable to the majority of Americans. Consequently, many students are forced to take out steep loans in order to pursue their degree of choice.

Americans collectively owe around $45 million in student loan debt. In addition, the average age of divorce from a first marriage is 30. Together, these two statistics mean that there is a reasonably high probability that if you get divorced, student loan debt will be a factor in the marital dissolution.

Are student loans community property?

Washington is one of the few community-property states in the country. This means that in the event of a divorce, any community – or shared – property is divided 50-50. Any assets or debts acquired after marriage are considered “community property” under the law. (Those acquired before marriage are “separate property.”)

However, the matter is not quite as cut and dried as just that. For student loan debt that is community property, a judge will consider other factors in determining how the debt should be handled. These include:

  • Who has paid for the loan
  • Whether one or both spouses signed for the loan
  • Whether the non-student spouse has benefitted from the other spouse’s degree

For example, if you have made significant financial contributions to your spouse’s medical school tuition and have since benefitted from their higher income as a doctor, then the court may decide that you and your spouse should split the debt. On the other hand, if you have helped to pay for your spouse’s law degree and have not reaped any benefits – e.g., your spouse did not become a doctor or is still in school at the time of your divorce – then a judge may decide that you should receive reimbursement for your payments up until that point.

Sorting through property and debt division in a divorce can be nuanced and complex. It can be worth having an experienced family law attorney in your corner to help ensure you get a fair deal.