Financial Aid for Students with Divorced Parents

college applicants

Employees not only worry about whether their child will get into college and where, but also about how to finance that college experience.  Guest blogger, Robert Weinerman, College Coach's Senior Director of College Finance, writes about the special challenges parents face in filing a financial aid application when divorce is part of the story.

Applying for financial aid is tough for students who have parents married to one another. It's even tougher for students whose parents are divorced, remarried, or were never married.

Divorced and single parents struggling to assist their children in completing aid applications while balancing a full workload are often boggled by financial aid applications that ask for the financial information of the student's mother and father.  Whose information do they really need?  Biological parents?  Stepparents?  Money can be a touchy subject, particularly in split or joint households, so confusing college aid applications only distract and add to the stresses of working parents simply wanting to assist their children with financial aid.  College Coach helps to clarify complicated application requirements for divorced parents, so that the aid process goes as smoothly as possible, children get the funding they need, and parents can get back to work!

The central financial aid application that most colleges use, the FAFSA, will ask a student to provide information "about the parent you lived with more during the past 12 months (or the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months, or during the most recent year that you actually received support from a parent if the student did not live with one parent more than another parent in the prior twelve months)." It then adds "If this parent is remarried as of today, answer the questions about that parent and your stepparent." This means that a student completes the FAFSA with the parent and stepparent (if there is one) in whose home he spent the most time. The non-custodial parent is not included (though if the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent, this child support is reported as untaxed income to the custodial household).

Colleges that rely solely on the FAFSA as their financial aid application will base their financial aid offers only on the student's custodial household, as defined above.

About 300 colleges, almost all private colleges, will go a bit further. They may ask a student's non-custodial parent to submit a form called the College Scholarship Service Non-Custodial Profile. This form collects information from the non-custodial parent (and his or her spouse if there is one). Colleges that collect this form may base their financial aid offer on the mother and father's combined income and assets, on the income and assets of all parents and stepparents, etc. There is no standardization, adding to stress of all involved parents, both at home and in the workplace.

Some Helpful Hints for Your Employees:

  • Custodial Stepparents.

    Regretfully, the Department of Education will not allow colleges to offer your stepchild federal funds unless you are willing to disclose your income and assets on their FAFSA. The colleges cannot override this. But remember, you don't have to pay for your stepchild's education: sharing information through the FAFSA with the colleges does not obligate you to pay your stepchild's bills.
  • Non-custodial Parents.

    If your child asks you to provide information to the college via the CSS Profile or another means, please do. The college probably will not be willing to offer your child financial aid if they ask for this information and do not get it. The college should be very careful to keep your information private and unavailable to your child or your child's other parent. If you have concerns about privacy, reach out to the college's financial aid office directly and share them.
  • Everyone. 

    Don't lose site of the point a child important to all of you is going to college! It's important for everyone to come together and get through the financial aid application process as easily as possible, so that the student receives the financial aid for which she might qualify.