Dear Carolyn,

My holiday is not so happy with my equitable distribution trial on the horizon. There are $125,000 student loans. My ex and I were married around 25 years, so these student loans are our son’s education at a private college. Yes, he has his costly degree and no job. He is living with me again. My ex wants these loans to be marital debt and wants me to pay half. I only make $35,000 and barely make ends meet. He makes at least $120,000. How do I make him pay these student loans? He signed, not me. I knew I could not afford the loans.


Carolyn Answers,

Student loans for children can be marital debt, but the determination seems fact-driven. Marital debt is a debt incurred for the joint benefit of the parties during the marriage. The question arises regarding whether having a child with a college education is an intangible benefit for parents.

Court of Appeals Judge Wood wrote recently in Purvis v. Purvis that a college debt of $164,163 was a marital debt to parents in equitable distribution. Purvis was a case of first impression. The driving factors seemed to be that the mother, who had lousy credit, had filled out and submitted the student loan application for the father to obtain the student loan for the child. The money went directly to the school. On another occasion, the mother’s mother signed a loan for the grandchild. The mother admitted she knew about the loans and tacitly agreed to the loan – her only out was she didn’t sign the loan agreement. The father was ordered to pay for 75 percent of the loan (Purvis) and the mother 25 percent in the equitable distribution.

Your best argument will be either 1) you did not know about the loan, if that is true, or 2) the father should pay more than you because of his income.

Good luck with this! Happy Holidays, Carolyn


Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to “Ask Carolyn…” at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC  27427.  Please do not put identifying information in your questions.  Note that the answers in “Ask Carolyn” are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation.  The column also uses hypothetical questions.  A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your individual case.  Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by “Ask Carolyn…”  “Ask Carolyn…” will be a regular column, but not necessarily weekly.