New York residents have likely been paying close attention to the latest news regarding COVID-19, as the state has been one of the hardest hit. One silver lining for New Yorkers with student loan debt has been that the government temporarily reduced student loan interest rates to 0%. However, individuals and married couples with student debt should keep in mind that this brief reprieve does not make their loans disappear altogether, and these loans could still bring down the value of marital assets in the event of a divorce.
Since New York is an equitable division state, assets are not divided 50-50 when a couple gets a divorce; rather, they are divided “fairly.” Thus, if two partners co-sign a student loan during marriage (which is typically required by private banks but not the federal government), a judge will need to determine what a fair split of the debt liability would be between the divorcing parties.
On the flip side, because New York is an equitable division state (as opposed to a community property state), if only one spouse’s name is on a student loan, the other spouse will typically not be responsible for helping to pay off the debt. Additionally, if one spouse incurred student loan debt before getting married, then the entire debt would be that spouse’s responsibility.
It is not always clear-cut who the responsible party will be for debt upon separation. If divorcing spouses want to reach an agreement on the division of marital property, assets and debt, rather than having a judge decide, the parties can try to negotiate this on their own. Having a New York-licensed family law attorney in one’s corner can be immensely helpful in the asset division process.