With nearly 45 million Americans burdened by student loan debt, there is no question that a large number of California residents take out student loans before getting married or during marriage. Given that the average age at which individuals first get divorced is 30, many divorcing couples are likely to have to have a significant amount of student debt on the table.

If someone incurs student debt before entering into a marriage, that debt would be the person’s separate property, and the spouse would not be liable for same. One exception to this is if both spouses consolidated pre-marital student loans into one loan in both partners’ names. However, if someone takes out a student loan during marriage, this is not the case.

In equitable distribution states, a spouse is only liable for debt incurred by the other if he or she cosigned the loan. In most community property states, a student loan taken out by either party during marriage is community property, meaning that both spouses are equally responsible to repay the debt. Though California is a community property state, it does have one exception to the general rule. If a spouse’s name is not on a student loan taken out during a marriage, and if the couple gets a divorce within 10 years of marriage, then the non-borrower spouse will not be responsible for repaying the loan.

When a couple in California gets a divorce, it can be difficult to account for and valuate all assets and debts, especially if a separate property asset increases in value due to efforts made by the spouses during marriage. A family law attorney may help clients valuate community property and assess whether certain assets and debts are separate or community property.