3 FAFSA Tips for Students with Divorced Parents
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Coming from a divorced family is hard enough, and adding financial aid documents to the mix can make a complicated situation even trickier. Many things in our society, especially official forms and government documents, are oriented towards a nuclear family (that is, a family with two parents who are married and have children). Therefore, it can feel overwhelming to try and fill out the FAFSA when you come from a non-traditional family.
What goes where? What does it all mean, and what information might you need? Perhaps most importantly, how will the situation affect your financial aid? Whether you’re a parent or the child of divorced parents, you and probably very confused. Luckily, we have some tips and tricks to help you fill out the FAFSA. Don’t panic, you are in the right place!
What is the FAFSA?
If you’re reading this blog post, then you probably know at least a little bit about financial aid. But just to recap, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) evaluates your family’s financial situation and determines how much financial aid money you should receive from a given college.
This number will vary from college to college, which is why you will get different financial aid offers from different schools. Your Expected Family Contribution is the amount that your family is expected to contribute to your college education. Factors that affect this number include your family’s tax information, untaxed income, assets, and benefits. It also takes into account factors like how many kids are in your family and how many kids will be in college at the time that you are attending.
If this isn’t already complicated enough, having divorced parents complicates the situation even more! We’ve compiled a list of tips below for handling this form with divorced parents.
Know Your Family
Typically, in families where the parents are married to one another, both parents will fill out the FAFSA.
In families where the parents are not married to one another, however, things get a little complicated—it all comes down to what your specific family situation us.
If your parents are not married, but live together, you will still fill out the FAFSA for both of them. If your parents are not married and don’t live together, then you fill out the FAFSA for the parent you live with more— the custodial parent. Let’s say you live with one parent on the weekdays and you see the other on weekends and some holidays. In this case, you would fill the FAFSA out for the parent that you live with during the week, since you spend more time living with them.
On the other hand, if you live with both of your parents equally, then the parent who gave you more financial support in the past 12 months is considered the custodial parent. Perhaps your parents have a 50/50 custody agreement, so you spend one week with one parent and then next week with the other. You would pick the parent who provides the most financial support (so, typically, this will be the parent who makes the most money) and fill out the FAFSA for them.
If your custodial parent or the parent you have lived with more in the past 12 months is legally remarried, then you also need to report your step-parent’s information on the FAFSA. Your non-custodial parent (so, the parent you live with less) or your parent who offers less financial support will not have to fill out their partner’s information on the FAFSA, even if they are remarried.
If your custodial/financially supportive parent lives with someone new but is not legally married, then you do not need to report this person’s information. There are some exceptions, though, for example, common law marriage. If your parent lives with a significant other and the state treats them as married, then this person may need to report their information on the FAFSA. Here’s a link to determine if the common law marriage loophole applies to your state.
Know the Details
Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of how the FAFSA will work with divorced parents, you also need to know a decent amount of information and your parents and their divorce.
According to the Federal Student Aid website, you will need:
- Your Social Security Number
- Your Parents’ Social Security Numbers
- Your driver’s license number
- Your alien registration number if you are not a citizen
- Federal tax information for you and your custodial parent/reporting parent
- Information about untaxed income (like child support) that is received by your reporting parent
- Information on cash and liquid assets in accounts, investments, and business income
Some of this may be confusing, especially for a high schooler, so be sure to talk to your parents and get clear on all of the details!
You may also need information about your parents’ divorce (like their date of legal separation, for example) so be sure to have the court paperwork handy. You may also need to submit documents proving that your parents are divorced.
Be sure to keep in mind that alimony (or the amount of money that one of your parents must give to the other when they get divorced) is considered taxable income— it should be included in your custodial parent’s tax information.
You also shouldn’t report alimony separately (like you do with child support, which is untaxed). If you report it separately on the FAFSA, you will be over reporting income, which may lessen what you are offered in your financial aid package.
It’s not easy coming from a divorced family, and filling out the FAFSA isn’t any easier. By knowing all the details and staying on top of things, though, you can make things a little less tricky for yourself and your parents. You might even be able to get more financial aid by by understanding how to report things like alimony and child support.
For more help understanding how to apply for financial aid, check out these blog posts:
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