Unhappily married couples with student loan debt often delay breaking up and lose more money when they finally divorce, according to a new report from the company Student Loan Hero. In extreme cases, individuals blame college costs specifically for ending their marriages, the findings suggest. While surprising, this might have something to do with student loans being distinct from other debts.
“Student loans can be uniquely stressful because, unlike most other non-secured debts, they do not go away until they are paid,” divorce attorney Devon Slovensky (who was not involved in the survey) told Fatherly, noting that declaring bankruptcy is not uncommon for young couples learning from financial mistakes. “But bankruptcy does not provide the same opportunity for a fresh start to most student loan borrowers.”
Arguments about money are one of the top predictors of divorce, especially early on in a marriage, studies show. Likewise, there are approximately 44 million people with $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone and the average student today caries about $37,172 in debt. Student loans are the second highest consumer debt category, second to mortgage debt. There’s also evidence that this may have sparked a growing class divide in happy marriages. Although fewer couples are getting married across the board, educated, upper-middle-class couples are more likely to be successful with they do, research shows.
To understand if student loans may be to blame, the Student Loan Hero report surveyed 808 divorced adults online about their student loan debt and how it affected their divorce. Results revealed that divorcees with student debt spent over $2,000 more on their divorces than couples without student loans. Interestingly, 35 percent of people with student loans admitted to delaying their divorce because they couldn’t afford it and 58 percent took on more debt to divorce. A surprising 13 percent of divorcees even went as far as to blame student debt for ending their marriages, which Slovensky suspects in unlikely to be the only reason couples split up. The fact couples with student loan debt end up spending more on their divorces is less shocking, she notes.
“Delays could increase the overall amount of debt that can be divided amongst the parties in a divorce,” Slovensky says, speculating that the failure to disclose the debts may be what actually caused the divorces for that 13 percent. “Student loan debt doesn’t generally cause divorce — unless one of the parties has hidden it from the other — in which case, the non-borrower often feels financially betrayed”.”
It’s important to note that the report only looked at divorced individuals and did not take into account happily married couples with student debt. The data does not indicate that student loan debt causes divorce, but simply shows that it has the capacity to make divorces that were already going to happen more costly, drawn out, and generally worse. Still, it’s not all bad — 70 percent of people reported changing their financial habits after going through a divorce. In Slovensky’s experience, divorces can definitely be a difficult and draining process, but most people seem to learn from them whether they have student debt or not.
“Once people are on their own, they realize they cannot blame their financial situation on someone else. This sometimes leads to better spending habits.”