Will my spouse have to contribute to my student loan debt?
Unfortunately, this is hard to predict, as there is only one binding Arizona Appellate Court decision. Your judge will therefore apply his or her own belief as to how your education contributed to your marriage, and whether either spouse unfairly benefitted or was unfairly burdened.
DId you go to school during the marriage?The first question is simply factual - what portion of your student loan debt did you acquire while you were married?
If you acquired your debt before you were married, you're on your own in paying it back.
If you acquired your student loan debt during the marriage, the Judge may find that your spouse is responsible for paying back a percentage of your debt.
If you got married while you were in school, you will need to show the exact amount of loans that you took out during the marriage, and your spouse may have to contribute to that portion.
Most of the Court of Appeals cases are not published, and therefore not binding on your judge.Published opinions by an appellate court are “binding” on a lower Court, such as the superior court, where your divorce is being heard. Once an opinion is published, a superior court judge must come to the same conclusion, or else find some way to distinguish the facts of your case from the appellate case in order to reach a different result. Published cases are, for lack of a better term, The Law.
Unpublished cases, on the other hand, are not binding on other judges, but merely “persuasive.” They can guide a superior court judge to prudently rule one way or another for fear of being overturned on appeal, or the judge may disregard them entirely. Some judges won’t even allow attorneys to argue non-published cases in Court.
The only published case in Arizona used contract principles, instead of family law principles.There is only one published case in Arizona which examines student loan debt: Pyeatte v. Pyeatte 135 Ariz. 346. You can google it, but reading it will probably make your head spin. In that case, the husband and wife had an oral contract that the wife would work and support the husband while he went to law school, and then the husband would support the wife in going back to school herself. Unfortunately, after the husband graduated from law school, he filed for divorce.
This case discusses the husband's student loan debt, but the Court is mostly focused on whether the couple's "quid pro quo" oral agreement was a binding, enforceable contract. Finding that it was not an enforceable contract, the Court then went on to look at whether the husband was "unjustly enriched" from the wife's labor, and whether an equitable remedy would be appropriate. All in all - it is a highly technical case, which probably will not apply to you or your spouse.
All the other cases (unpublished) divide student loan debt acquired during the marriage.Even though the other cases are persuasive only, and not binding on your judge, they do give some indication of what your judge may do. Every one of those cases finds that student loan debt that was acquierd during the marriage is "community debt" and equitably divides it between the two spouses. I have seen some judges want to know how the student loan debt was used: if it was used for tuition or if it was used for living expenses. In other words, if you took out $9,000 in loans, and only $5,000 was used for tuition, the remaining $4,000 probably went towards living expenses, or a "community purpose," which your spouse also benefitted from. Therefore, your spouse would need to repay some of that debt.
If you have a lot of student loan debt, consult with an attorney in your area.In general, if you have a high amount of student loan debt that you acquired while you were married, you should consult with an attorney in the area you live in. How the Court will divide that debt will depend on the individual judge and your individual circumstances.