A recent Superior Court decision, Sashko v. Sashko, No. 729 MDA 2013 (Pa. Super. 2014), addressed the issue of a spouse's student loan debt and how this is treated for purposes of equitable distribution. Specifically, the court was faced with the question of whether student loan debt incurred during the marriage would be that spouse's individual debt or whether it would be considered a marital debt. This is a very interesting question in the context of PA family law, as the number of individuals with significant student loan debt is increasing given the current job market.
In this case, Wife went to nursing school during the parties marriage and was claiming that Husband should be responsible for her student loan debt as a joint debt because Husband participated in the decision-making with regard to Wife's choice to go to school for nursing. Wife also contends that she used student loan money to pay for some of the parties' expenses during marriage.
The trial court, in adopting the equitable distribution master's recommendation, decided that Wife should be solely responsible for these student loans. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court's decision on this issue, and citing Hicks v. Kubit, 758 A.2d 202 (Pa. Super. 2000), determined that even if a debt is characterized as "marital" -this does not mean that this "marital debt" necessarily becomes a joint debt for the parties. In Hicks, with facts similar to those in this case, Ms. Hicks was held responsible for her own student loan debt, as she was the recipient of the education and should be responsible for the loans associated with her education. Here, the court determined that Wife failed to prove that Husband derived a benefit from Wife's education, and thus, she was held responsible for all of her student loan debt.
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