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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Marriage, Divorce and Student Debt

It can probably be safely presumed that not many engaged couples compile checklists of compatibility points that might help to cumulatively gauge the likelihood of their future marital success. Likewise, even fewer probably tick off factors that can militate against an enduring union right from the outset.

Here’s a consideration, though, that has jumped front and center for literally millions of people and presents a very sobering reality where the quality of marriage – and even the prospects for divorce – are considered: student debt.

It is a very real concern. According to the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education, the average amount of debt owed by a college student upon graduation from a four-year college in 2008 was more than $23,000. Couple that by two, and it represents a sizable monthly outlay for a young married couple. In many instances, it is as much or more than a monthly mortgage payment.

And for couples that go on to secure advanced degrees, the amount owed can easily exceed six figures. That level of debt – the cost of a house or more – has given rise to pundits and columnists who now write regularly on the subject of student-loan debt and its spillover effects on other areas of life.

Marriage is a central consideration in the mix, as is what waits at the other end of the tunnel for some couples who marry with what is already an eye-popping amount of debt. They begin paying off what are essentially two mortgages right from day one of their marriages, and the extreme and constant stress level associated with that results in divorce for many of them.

Advice from “experts” on how to deal with this is more about common sense than dramatic revelation, and often coalesces around the following bits of advice:

  • Delay the wedding – Hang tight for awhile, get jobs, pare down some debt first
  • Marry small – Forgo wedding extravagances; apply what you would have spent to debt
  • Examine commonality of goals – Are you both on the same page concerning work goals, life style preferences, future family composition?

And last, but perhaps foremost, start saving now if possible, consistently and as much as possible.

Related Resource: “Should You Marry Someone with Student Loan Debt?” November 4, 2010