My unmarried partner is in default on student loans...
August 16, 2018 5:32 AM   Subscribe

My partner, to whom I am not married and who is not claimed as a dependent on my tax filings, just got sent to collections for some student loans that are in default. What are my legal responsibilities?

For further context, we are trying to deal with this in good faith. We're looking into consolidation to get out of default and onto some kind of sustainable payment plan.

The one wrinkle I want to understand here is that she has no income of her own, but I've been supporting her via shared rent and living expenses. If our primary plans fall through and the collections company takes her to court, is there any chance that my wages could be garnished or something like that to pay off her debt? Like the court could decide that we're effectively living as a married couple even though we haven't done the paperwork? (For the record, we don't live in one of the states that officially recognize common law marriages.)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think that there is any chance of this. Do you have a shared bank account? If so, I think that could be garnished. Any property you own together (you mentioned rent so I doubt this is an issue) could also be a target for debt although I don't know whether that is possible for student loans where you are.
posted by atrazine at 5:54 AM on August 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hmmm - well, it ultimately depends on your legal jurisdiction - but the overall consensus seems to be: no
posted by jkaczor at 5:54 AM on August 16, 2018

So long as you're not married, in a civil union or in a common-law marriage in a state which has those (you say yours doesn't) I don't see any legal relationship between the two of you that would create an obligation for you to pay back any of her debts. From the law's perspective, I don't don't believe your romantic relationship matters one bit; it's as if you were two people who didn't know each other. Even cohabitation, so long as it doesn't trigger common law marriage, doesn't really matter.

Now there are other reasons which may apply. I'm assuming you didn't cosign any of the loans, right? That would obviously create responsibility. Do you have any share accounts, shared ownership of cars, real estate, etc? In that case, they collections would still be trying to seize her assets, not yours, but if they're intermingled that may not help you.
posted by bsdfish at 6:04 AM on August 16, 2018

This was the situation with me and my ex-(not)-husband; we actually went to a lawyer to figure out what to do since we did want to get married. We ended up getting a civil union in our state instead of getting married because the federal government didn't recognize us as married. He also had significant debt with garnishment and none of it ever touched me. If you're not even legally linked to one another, you're one step further removed than we were, so you'll be totally fine. When we dissolved our civil union, there was language in there about whose debts were whose but it actually didn't apply because there was no debt split. Same thing with shared assets.

Just make sure you keep your money very separate. Never commingle accounts! Bank account garnishment happens.
posted by juniperesque at 7:28 AM on August 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah, an ex of mine didn't legally marry his ex-"wife" for reasons like this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:52 PM on August 16, 2018

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