This is kind of scary for Halloween. Market Watch has an interesting article about a husband who paid off his wife’s student loans during their very short marriage, and his wife thanked him by filing for divorce after a mere 24 months of marriage. Was the husband the victim of divorce fraud, and tricked into paying off his wife’s student loans?

divorce fraud

Tricked or Treated?

As the Market Watch article reports: “[b]efore I married my wife two years ago, she had huge amounts of debt to her name, including large amounts of student loans. After we married, we diligently almost paid everything off, helped by my salary being three times that of my wife.”

She recently asked for a divorce, saying she was taking the house and my retirement. My question is: Does the fact we paid off her debts she held before get spread evenly? Had I not paid all of her debts our net worth would be near the same with a better outcome for me.

We’ve only been married a few years, and frankly I can’t help feeling taken advantage of. The only advice I can find discusses whose responsibility the student loans would be, but now it just seems that she got me to pay all of her debts, and got some new stuff, while I threw away years of my life.

Please tell me there’s hope.

Florida Divorce and Student Loans

Is there hope for Market Watch’s husband?

I’ve written about student loans in the past. Florida is an equitable distribution state. The initial premise behind an equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities – such as student loans – is equal distribution.

However, when proper justification is shown, a family court judge may make an unequal distribution.  The burden is difficult. A distribution of marital debts, whether equal or unequal, must be supported by factual findings and based on substantial competent evidence. The rationale for the distribution also has to be disclosed by the judge.

As a general proposition, student loan debt incurred during the marriage is a marital liability. So, in the absence of findings supporting the unequal distribution of a student loan debt, marital student loan debts must be equitably distributed between the parties.

The fact that the husband will not receive any benefit from his ex-wife’s education because of the divorce is not a factor to be considered when allocating a marital debt for student loans.

In sum, absent some other justification for an unequal distribution, controlling case law in Florida will usually prohibit a family court judge from awarding student loan debt incurred during the marriage solely to one party or the other.

Out of Luck?

As Market Watch reports, divorce after two years is a tough break, “especially given all the help you gave your wife with her student debt. That’s a particularly unusual kind of debt, in that it’s virtually impossible to discharge.”

The article concludes by noting that “[t]he best thing you have going for you right now is your honest intentions going into this marriage and your (good) behavior throughout. Having examined all the details, the judge may not be able to say the same thing about your wife.

The Market Watch article is here.