In part 1 of this post, we talked about college and professional degrees that spouses earned during marriage and how Florida courts handle those degrees in divorce. As we described, our courts have said that a degree is not an asset to divide in divorce like real estate, personal property or a bank account. It is also not proper to use a degree as a basis for a lump sum (one time) alimony payment.
It is speculative to place a value on a degree (the holder can’t sell it, for example, for a set price). In essence, its value to a person is in the probable increase in future earning capacity. So, Florida courts do consider a degree when creating an ongoing alimony award, as we explained in part 1.
What about student loan debt?
The issue of student loan debt can be extremely important in a divorce because nowadays people frequently take out high amounts of debt to get their degrees. Significant student loan liability can prevent a person from buying a house or a car or can significantly decrease their standard of living.
The Second District Court of Appeal of Florida in 2009 issued Rogers v. Rogers, a major case on this issue. The court said that student loans taken out during marriage are marital debts that should be equitably split between the parties. Notably, the fact that the spouse who did not get the degree will not benefit from the loans going forward is not a relevant factor when dividing those loans. Giving all marital student loan debt to one spouse is not allowed, unless there is a different justification for the unequal split.
Normally, student loans taken out by either party before marriage remain the nonmarital debt of each individual after divorce. It is important that at a divorce trial the evidence be substantial and clear of which student loans were premarital and which the parties took out during the marriage.
Especially for student loans that are marital, it is also necessary to submit competent evidence of the balance of each of them, so that the court can equitably divide them.
Finally, the parties are always free to divide student loan debt differently by agreement. For example, they may have divided student loans by negotiation in a premarital, postmarital, or marital settlement agreement at the time of divorce.
An attorney can answer questions about student loan debt and divorce in an individual situation.