Student loan debt of one of the parties is considered a marital debt if acquired between the date of marriage and the date of separation. However, a student loan may not be subject to the same distribution percentages as the rest of the marital estate. Hicks v. Kubit, 758 A.2d 202 (Pa. Super. 2000) discusses the appropriate treatment of student loans in a divorce action. In Hicks, $30,776 in the way of student loans was borrowed during the marriage. The trial court only found a small portion of that total ($13,000) to be marital debt since it was deposited into a joint account and used for household expense. The balance of the loan was assigned to Wife. Wife raised an issue on appeal on the basis the entire loan should be considered marital debt. The Superior Court found that the trial court committed an error in only characterizing part of the total debt as marital, instead finding that the total loan amount acquired during the marriage would appropriate be characterized as marital debt.
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The Superior Court goes on to state that the characterization of a debt as marital does not necessarily mean both parties will be responsible for the debt. The more equitable approach is to review the circumstances surrounding acquisition of the debt to come to a just distribution. Ultimately, the Superior Court held that the party who gains the exclusive benefit of education should be responsible for the repayment of the loans taken out to finance that education. In that regard, the trial court's decision to make Wife responsible for the portion of the loan actually used for educational purposes was not disturbed. Parties who have student loan debt should first determine if the debt was acquired during the marriage. The second step would be to analyze what exactly the loans were used for to see how they should be allocated between the parties.