If you or your partner have taken out student loans before getting married, this debt will likely be considered separate debt. As with all separate property, each of you will be responsible for paying off your own debt, even in the event of a divorce.
This is not always the case for student loan debt acquired during a marriage. In the community property states — Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin — student loan debt may be viewed as marital debt. In other words, the debt is jointly owed. If you separate from your partner, a court may hold you responsible for paying off at least a portion of your spouse’s student loan debt.*
Related: Are Student Loans Community Property?
Even if you don’t live in a community property state and your student debt remains separate, your marriage could still impact your ability to make your monthly payments, especially if you rely on an income-based repayment plan. If you file taxes jointly, your spouse’s income will cause your monthly payments to increase. And if you file a separate return, your tax bill may be higher.
Related: How Income-Driven Repayment Plans Work
Due to the challenges that state laws and high amounts of student loan debt present, many couples opt to create a prenuptial agreement to put the division of assets and debts into their own hands.
* Although a judge can enter an order that forces you to repay your spouse’s federal or private student loans, the lender won’t come after you for the debt. They’ll continue to pursue your spouse. But if you fail to make the required student loan payments, your spouse can return to court and ask the judge to hold you in contempt of court for failing to pay. Read more about divorce and student loans.