Planning for your child’s education can be an involved process requiring the discipline to put aside savings and the diligence to pursue every avenue of financial aid. This becomes further complicated when you are getting, or are, divorced.
What are your financial responsibilities to each other and your child? Who pays for what? You and your divorce attorneys can negotiate much of that, but what happens when it comes time to apply for financial aid? What do you put down for income and family size? Well, that’s where I come in.
Which of Our Incomes Do I Use?
You use the income of the custodial parent. Bear in mind that this is not necessarily the person who has legal custody. The federal Higher Education Act (HEA) has its own criteria to determine this. It si one of the following:
- the parent with whom you resided for the greater portion of the 12-month period preceding the date of the FAFSA application;
- if you did not live with one parent more than the other, then it is the parent who provided the greater portion of the student’s support for the 12-month period preceding the date of the FAFSA application; or
- if you have not received support from either parent in the past 12 months, then the parent who provided the greater support during the most recent calendar year for which parental support was provided.
This income of the custodial parent does include any child support paid by the non-custodial parent, so don’t forget that! However, the income from the non-custodial parent can be important to obtaining aid from private colleges, so keep that information at the ready if you need to fill out a supplemental form for them.
What If I Remarried? What Are the Obligations of Step-Parents?
People don’t always stay single after divorce; they often remarry. So does the income of the step-parent get included on the FAFSA? The answer is yes, if it is the new spouse of the custodial parent, and if
- the student's parent and the stepparent are married as of the date of application for the award year concerned; and
- the student is not an independent student.
This is required even if the custodial parent signed a prenuptial agreement that absolves the stepparent from financial responsibility for the child's education. Basically, two people cannot make an agreement that is binding on a third party.
What Do I Put Down for Family Size?
Simply put, the custodial parent includes the child in the household size regardless of whether he or she provides more than half the support for said child. This can result in the child being in more than one household. What if the non-custodial parent remarries, and the new spouse has college age children? That spouse can include the child when filling out the FAFSA.
If you are looking for more information about federal financial aid for college, then download my free book, Applying for Federal Financial Aid: The Definitive Guide for Students and Parents.
For more information about what happens after you graduate, get my free book, I Graduated; Now What? A Guide to Dealing with Your Student Loans.
You can also access the latest news on student loans, get answers to Frequently Asked Questions, and read articles in my Library. Continue to educate yourself as you go through the process of making smart decisions about college financing!