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Some debts outlive your marriage

What seemed practical and wise then may feel foolish now. When you and your spouse consolidated your student loans, you expected to work together to pay them off, bearing the burden as a couple. However, you did not count on a divorce and the headache of dividing assets and debts.

If you are preparing for that step in your divorce, you may be concerned about the amount of joint debt you carry. You may discover that separating the debt is much more complicated than dividing the assets, especially when it comes to those consolidated student loans.

You may be able to divide some debt relatively easily. If you have a credit card in your name, it will obviously be your responsibility to assume the debt. The court may separate loans that you or your spouse incurred prior to your marriage without dispute. You and your spouse may agree that you will pay the balance on a loan for a car that you expect will be yours after your divorce settlement.

Handcuffed to your promissory note

A consolidated student loan is trickier, particularly if your loan was, for example, $4,000 and your spouse owed $20,000. Legally, if both of your names are on the documents for the consolidation, the combined loan of $24,000 and all the interest and fees that go along with it belongs to both of you.

In your settlement, the court may order your spouse to pay a portion of the monthly bill. However, if your spouse does not pay his or her share, that does not relieve you of the liability stipulated in the signed contract for the loan. Even if you pay your part, you may still face the harsh consequences, collection actions and credit damage if your spouse does not fulfill his or her obligation.

Thousands of people like you have signed petitions and urged the government to pass legislation allowing couples to divide student loans during a divorce. However, no action is pending, and couples must trust one another to come through with agreed upon amounts or face the consequences.

Your limited options

Unfortunately, if your marriage was contentious to begin with, there is no reason for you to expect cooperation from your spouse when you are no longer married. Similarly, if your spouse was abusive, it may be easier for you to take responsibility for the loan rather than fighting for your ex's share.

You may not be able to legally divide the student loan, but you can take other steps. Paying off as much of the debt as possible before the divorce may alleviate some of the burden. You may also be able to negotiate payment options with the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman. Your attorney can ask the court to divide the rest of your martial debts so that you are not responsible for more than you can afford.

There is still the chance that your former spouse will refuse or forget to pay debts for which you are legally responsible. If this happens, you have the right to return to court to ask the judge for help in forcing your spouse to live up to the settlement. Your attorney will guide you through this and every step of your divorce to ensure you are treated fairly and your rights are protected.

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