[COLUMN] Reimbursement for community contribution towards a spouse’s education and student loan during marriage

ONE of the biggest problems of millennials and Gen Z are educational cost and student loan debt. This eats up a large part of a household’s budget even among married couples. However, what happens to all the money paid towards one spouse’s education and student loans if the marriage fails and leads to divorce? Well, California Family Code Section 2641(b)(1) provides that upon divorce or legal separation, the community “shall be reimbursed” for its “contributions” to a spouse’s education or training that “substantially enhances” the spouse’s earning capacity. Under Family Code Section 2641(a), reimbursable community “contributions” means payments made with community or quasi-community property for a spouse’s education or training or for the repayment of a loan incurred thereof, no matter where the parties resided when the payments were made.

Family Code § 2641 reimbursement is not limited to education or training received during marriage. Rather, by its terms, application of the statute is governed solely by whether community funds were used to pay for the education or training. Thus, educational costs and loans paid with community funds are within the ambit of § 2641 reimbursement even if the education occurred before marriage. Marriage of Weiner, supra, 105 CA4th at 239-240, 129 CR2d at 291.

In Marriage of Mullonkal & Kodiyamplakkil (2020) 51 CA5th 604, 607-608, 265 CR3d 285, 288, the court held that the community is entitled to reimbursement where the spouse paid off student loans for education she attained before marriage with funds from her salary earned during marriage. In Mullonkal & Kodiyamplakkil, the trial court erroneously held § 2641 did not apply because, among other things, the student spouse (Wife) repaid her premarital education with her own earnings during the marriage, and the nonstudent spouse (Husband) failed to contribute to Wife’s education/loan repayments and family expenses. “[B]ut nothing in [§ 2641] contemplates denying reimbursement to the community where the student spouse pays for her own education or where the nonstudent spouse did not somehow earn an entitlement to an equal share of the community. Indeed, the statute refers to community contributions to education, and makes no reference to the source of the community contribution.” Marriage of Mullonkal & Kodiyamplakkil, supra, 51 CA5th at 615-616, 265 CR3d at 294.

At a minimum, reimbursable community expenditures include amounts paid for the student spouse’s tuition, fees, books, supplies and transportation. Fam.C. § 2641, Law Rev. Comm’n Comment, 23 Cal. L.Rev. Comm’n Reports 1 (1993). Beyond this, however, community expenditures are a reimbursable “contribution” only if directly related to the educational experience. Ordinary living expenses that would have been incurred regardless of whether one spouse was attending school such as rent, food and clothing, health care and entertainment, are not reimbursable under § 2641. Marriage of Watt (1989) 214 CA3d 340, 354, 262 CR 783, 791-792.

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Please note that this article is not legal advice and is not intended as legal advice. The article is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This article is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you. This article does create any attorney client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Kenneth U. Reyes, APLC. This article is not a solicitation.

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Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes is a Certified Family Law Specialist.  He was President of the Philippine American Bar Association.  He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association.  He is a graduate of Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles and California State University, San Bernardino School of Business Administration.  He has extensive CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, APLC. is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 747, Los Angeles, CA, 90010.  Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail Kenneth@kenreyeslaw.com or visit our website at Kenreyeslaw.com.

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Atty. Kenneth Reyes

Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes is a Certified Family Law Specialist. He was President of the Philippine American Bar Association. He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. He has extensive CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, P.C. is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 747, Los Angeles, CA, 90010. Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail kureyeslaw@gmail.com or visit our website at Kenreyeslaw.com.

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