Profiled in a recent New York Times story, Allison Brooke Eastman learned another way that debt can devastate. Once her fiancé discovered that she had more than $170,000 in student loan debt, he broke off the engagement.
These days, it is not uncommon for people to bring significant debt to a relationship. And, as illustrated by Ms. Eastman’s story, it is also common for couples to fail to address debt issues prior to entering marriage. An advantage of prenuptial agreements is that they force the discussion so that “unpleasant” issues are brought to the forefront and dealt with prior to marriage.
People who bring debt to a marriage – whether it is one or both of them in the relationship – should decide how that debt will be treated during the marriage as well as in the case of a divorce. From a legal standpoint, it is likely that any debt one spouse brings to a marriage would remain his or hers alone after a divorce. But would the other spouse be entitled to a “refund” of monies he or she spent to pay down the other’s debt? What if the debt-ridden spouse becomes incapacitated and can no longer work – or wants to quit their job to stay home and take care of the children? How is the debt paid then? These are all valid questions that can and should be addressed as part of a prenuptial agreement discussion.