The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application opens Oct. 1. Federal student aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, meaning you’ll want to file as early as possible. But for some families, filing can be tricky.
In particular, families with divorced parents may have questions or concerns about filling out their application. It’s important, then, to be informed so that you can file quickly and not miss out on any aid.
Which parent should complete the FAFSA?
One of the most common questions asked by divorced parents about filling out the FAFSA is which parent should file. The answer can be confusing. If one parent has full custody of the student, that is the parent that should file the FAFSA.
The custodial parent, in terms of the FAFSA, is the parent with which the student has lived most frequently over the past 12 months. If the parents share custody of the student, the parent who provides greater deal of financial support to the student should file. This is the case if the time spent living with each parent over the past 12 months is equal or if the divorce happened within the past year. Additionally, financial support doesn’t simply mean child support. It also includes contributing to expenses such as healthcare, food, housing, clothes, etc. It should be noted, also, that the parent who files the FAFSA for the student is not necessarily the same parent who claims the student on their tax return.
What about others in the picture?
If a student has divorced parents, there’s a chance that there may be other adults in the picture for the student. One or both parents may be remarried or have live-in significant others. This can also complicate the FAFSA process. If a parent is living with a significant other but not married to them, that person’s information should not be included. However, if the student receives financial support from that person, those funds should be reported as untaxed income for the student on the FAFSA.
If the parent filing the FAFSA is remarried, their new spouse’s information must be reported in the parent section. Because the stepparent is now officially a part of the student’s household, the stepparent’s tax information should be reported as if they were a biological parent. This must be done even if the tax information required for the FAFSA predates the remarriage. Additionally, this step must be taken regardless if the stepparent is planning to help pay for the student’s education. A prenuptial agreement also doesn’t affect this. It’s also important to note that the stepparent’s information will not need to be reported on the FAFSA in the event that the custodial parent passes away.
What about the non-custodial parent?
Most schools require income and asset information from the non-custodial parent, even though they are not the parent filing the FAFSA. And if the non-custodial parent is remarried, that stepparent will need to provide their information as well.
Filling out a FAFSA application can be confusing regardless of your family situation. Divorced parents need to take special care to know what the FAFSA will be looking for in regards to their circumstances. Remember – the earlier you file, the better. Therefore, knowing what’s ahead can help expedite the process and get your student the financial award they deserve.
For more tips about filing the FAFSA, paying for college or dealing with student loans, visit the Tayne Law Group blog.