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Many Tennessee residents are among the nearly 45 million people nationwide who hold student debt. Though a large number of those people likely took out student loans before getting married, there are some who incurred student debt during marriage. For those people, state of residence is extremely important in determining who will be responsible for the loan after a divorce.

In community property states, nearly everything acquired by spouses during marriage belongs equally to both individuals, including student loans. Thus, even after a divorce, the non-borrowing spouse would still be responsible for repaying half of the loan. By contrast, in equitable distribution states like Tennessee, a loan taken out during a marriage belongs only to the person whose name is on the loan; a spouse would only be responsible for repaying the debt if he or she cosigned the loan.

If student debt is incurred prior to marriage, that debt would be the borrower’s separate property regardless of whether the person lives in a community property or an equitable distribution state. One exception to this would be if two people took out student loans before getting married and then consolidated them into one during marriage, which has not been allowed for federal government loans since 2006.

In equitable distribution states like Tennessee, it can be difficult to determine how to divide assets and debt in a divorce. If a separating couple is unable to reach an agreement, a judge will enter an order stating how marital property must be divided. If someone is in the process of getting a divorce and wants to reach a negotiated settlement without the need for a court order, it may be a good idea to seek guidance from a family law attorney.