How Does Divorce Affect Student Financial Aid for College?


Men who are divorcing later in life may have children who are about to begin or are already attending college.  After years of planning for this day, it is bittersweet to realize that you and your spouse will not be together to savor the success.  However, it is also much worse when the divorce affects your savings and the money available to send your children to college.

What is even more confusing is that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is required to get any type of loan or grant, has different rules for divorced parents than for those who are married.  Children who live with one parent but who are claimed by the other, or those who are subjects of joint custody agreements, may be confused about which parent’s income they should use.

Here are some facts about divorce and student financial aid that may help you as you consider the future of your financial arrangements with your ex-spouse.

  • The custodial parent should complete the FAFSA.  If you and your former spouse share custody exactly 50 percent of the time, you can choose which spouse will give income information.  If, however, one spouse has the child more than 183 days per year, that spouse’s information must be used on the FAFSA.  Note that a “year” ends on the day the FAFSA is signed, often in late winter or early spring rather than December 31.
  • Tax exemptions are irrelevant.  Although the FAFSA requests financial information from the reporting parent’s tax returns, who claimed the child is not important.  Child support payments are also not an issue when determining who should file the FAFSA.  Only custody matters.
  • Remarriage matters more.  A custodial parent must declare both sources of income if he or she remarries, even if the step-parent pays nothing toward the child’s upkeep.
  • The PROFILE form has different rules.  The PROFILE form is used by 250 private schools and it treats divorce differently from the FAFSA.  PROFILE requests information from both parents.

When you are facing a custody, support or financial aid situation with an ex-spouse, it is helpful to have sound legal advice.  A family law attorney may be able to help you work out an agreement that pays for your child’s college fees fairly and allows him or her to get a good education without unfair stress on either parent.

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