Advertisement

A mom who's stuck with the bill for her ex-husband's student loans is struggling to pay the $365,000 balance and help her kids at the same time

A mom who's stuck with the bill for her ex-husband's student loans is struggling to pay the $365,000 balance and help her kids at the same time
  • Shannon Rowan, 51, divorced her husband in 2010.

  • She's still stuck with the bill for his student loans and cannot separate their balances.

  • She said it's keeping her from buying a car or taking out loans for her kids' education.

Shannon Rowan, 51, divorced her husband in 2010. But more than a decade later, their student loans are preventing them from fully separating.

In 2002, Rowan and her then-husband decided to consolidate their student-loan balances into the spousal joint-consolidation loan program, which Congress created to allow married couples to combine their balances and make payments with a single interest rate.

When they decided to divorce eight years later, they could not separate their loans because Congress shuttered the program in 2006, leaving them without any avenue to pay their loans separately. As a result, the judge overseeing the divorce ordered Rowan to pay 18% of the balance — which was about $98,000 at the time — and her ex-husband was ordered to pay 82% of it since the majority of the loans belonged to him, according to court documents reviewed by Business Insider.

The agreement also stated that her ex-husband would make the payments and Rowan would reimburse him for her portion.

While Rowan's ex-husband made some payments, they were not consistent — and she was notified that her loan was in default status with the risk of wage garnishment if she did not bring the account up to date on payments.

Their combined student-loan balance now stands at just under $365,000, per documents reviewed by BI, due to surging interest on the loans during the periods when no payments were being made. Rowan has since remarried, and to help pay for her kids' education, her husband has had to take out federal parent-PLUS student loans under his own name, which allow a parent to borrow up to the full cost of attendance for their child.

"When my oldest went into college, I tried to get a parent loan, and I couldn't because of my outstanding debt. So my current husband has all my kids' student loans in his name," Rowan told BI.

"And we've got a second one that's in university now, and it's the same situation," she continued. "All the student loans are in my current husband's name. So it's just been extremely difficult, and I want to make the payments. I want to get out of default status. I went to college, I got my degree, I owe that money back, and I have no problem paying it, but he has to be the one to do it."

Shannon Rowan
Shannon Rowan, 51, cannot separate her $365,000 student-loan balance from her ex-husband.Shannon Rowan

While Rowan wants to separate her loans to gain financial freedom from her ex, other borrowers with spousal loans are seeking to separate their balances for a range of reasons. One married couple previously told BI they want separate so they can qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and spousal loans are not eligible for the program.

To address the issue, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and Rep. David Price of North Carolina introduced the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act of 2021 — signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2022 — to allow borrowers to separate their spousal loans. However, Federal Student Aid's website said implementation of the law likely won't happen "until late 2024 at the earliest," meaning spousal borrowers are still stuck in limbo without any avenue for relief.

"It's been a huge financial stress because my husband also has the house in his name," Rowan said. "And I keep thinking every time we try to do something that is necessary for the kids or our living situation, are we going to get turned down as a result of all of this?"

'It's been a nightmare'

Rowan said she started encountering hurdles with her student-loan balance shortly after her divorce. For example, when she attempted to purchase a car, she wasn't able to do so because of her outstanding balance in default status.

She also can't get a new credit card, and she said that her parents are concerned her inheritance will be garnished because of her student loans.

"It's been a nightmare," Rowan said. "It's just a continuous issue."

BI recently spoke to Chrystal Copeland, a 46-year-old mom also seeking to get her loan balance separated from her ex-husband's. Similar to Rowan, Copeland said the inability to separate the balances means she can't buy a new car and she's not on the mortgage for the house her current husband owns.

"The only thing that is still holding me in this cycle of abuse is these student loans," Copeland said. "They're still beholding me to my ex-spouse, and I can't break free."

For now, Rowan said she is trying to get out of default status. She hopes the application to separate her student loans from her ex will become available as soon as possible so she can finally have closure.

"It was a huge, huge sense of relief when I saw that passed," Rowan said, referring to the law to allow spousal loans to separate. "But the delays have been very disheartening because we thought this was going to be resolved, but it's been a roller coaster."

Read the original article on Business Insider