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It is a classic cautionary tale—you marry young with big dreams for the future. You cannot afford to pursue your dreams simultaneously so one of you sets off for college while the other toils to support you.  In the original plan, spouse two, the toiler, will get her/his day to pursue an education and secure a career that s/he can be proud of.  Sadly, before the dream can be actualized, spouse one meets someone new at dream job and falls madly in love. Spouse one runs off with new love and leaves spouse two with a dead-end job and no education to fall back on. Spouse two heads to the local court house to file for a divorce. It is time for some justice. But wait, California is a no-fault state, so surely that means spouse two has no recourse for the damage caused by a lusting heart and the long hours of residency.

Fear not, Family Code Section 2641 is here to save the day!

Thankfully, Spouse two has a pretty decent recourse if Spouse one dumps her/him the day after her/his residency ends. California Family Code Section 2641 provides for reimbursement to the community for educational expenses, including student loan payments, made by the community for the education of one spouse. In addition to reimbursement, the community is entitled to interest at the legal rate (currently 10% per annum) from the end of the calendar year in which the payment was made until the time it is reimbursed. Have you looked at the interest rate on your savings account lately? Ten percent is a gold mine.

Does the Spouse two get all of the money and interest due under Family Code Section 2641?

The answer is no. Since the community is entitled to the reimbursement, each spouse of that community gets an equal share of the reimbursement. Hopefully 50% of the pot will be enough to help Spouse two get the education s/he was promised at the altar.

Are there any defenses?

Wait a minute here? What if my spouse benefits from the education that I received? Or what if neither of us benefited from the education? Do I still have to pay the community back?

The answer is maybe not. Unlike the federal student loan program where you owe the money even if you never get your degree, find that there are no jobs in the field of study, or worse that the school you were attending was a fraud, Family Code 2641 provides grounds for the court to reduce or even deny a request for reimbursement of educational expenses.

  •   First, you can avoid repayment, at least in part, if you can show that the education  did not substantially enhance your earning potential.
  •   Second, you can avoid repayment, at least in part, if you can show that the community has substantially benefitted from the education.
  •   Third, you can avoid repayment, at least in part, if you can show that your need for spousal support will be significantly reduced by the education that the community paid for.

How can mediation help me with this issue?

By mediating your divorce with a mediator who is also an experienced family  law attorney, you receive the benefit of having a professional who can educate you both on the law. As a neutral, your mediator won’t advocate for one result or another, but she can provide you with questions and information that can assist both spouses to evaluate their individual situations. When you are able to view your situation for both spouses’ perspective, you are better prepared to present solutions that are agreeable to both spouses.  Jarratt Martin Law, LLP is here to help empower you and your spouse to find compromise without the headache and expense of going to the courthouse. Set up an appointment today to learn more.

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