Filling out FAFSA® with Divorced Parents

If you’re a dependent student filing the FAFSA®, and your parents are separated and/or divorced, applying for financial aid isn’t difficult. However, there are a few steps you’ll need to take and additional paperwork you may need depending on numerous factors.

Filling out the FAFSA® When Parents Are Separated Or Divorced

Contrary to what is sometimes assumed, parents “not living together” means that the two parents must have a separate legal address. This is true even when the separation is informal (meaning it isn’t “court-approved”).

States may seek to verify that parents have a separate address, so parents living in a temporary living arrangement (such as staying with friends or family or a hotel) do not count separate residences. In cases of informal separation where two parents still have one permanent address, parents would still have to file FAFSA® as “married” or “remarried.”

Using Your Custodial Parent for FAFSA®

How do you choose which parent is the custodial parent?

If you’re a dependent student, the custodial parent is the one who needs to fill out the form. One thing to keep in mind is that the concept of ‘custodial parent’ is not exactly the same as the legal sense.

For FAFSA® purposes, your custodial parent is the one you have lived with for the majority of the last year. Note that this is not over the last calendar year, but the last 12 months.

In some cases, you may have lived with both parents equally. If this happens, the parent who provided the most financial support would be considered the custodial parents.

Do you include step-parents on FAFSA®?

Another question you may have is what to do if your custodial parent (the parent that you would report for your FAFSA®) is remarried and you have step-parent? In these cases, you would report your step-parent’s income.

However, if a student’s custodial parent passed away, then you do not need to report the step-parent unless they legally adopted you after your custodial parent’s passing.

What are non-custodial parents responsible for?

According to the federal government, while child support received must be reported on the FAFSA® form, the non-custodial parent is not required to help pay for a child’s schooling.

Since the assets and income of non-custodial parents are not considered for calculating federal financial aid, you generally do not need to add any non-custodial parents nor non-custodial step-parents to your FAFSA®.

Some private schools do take any non-custodial parent income and assets into consideration and might require that any non-custodial parents submit a supplemental form. This requirement may require coordination between divorced parents.

How do you report adoptive parents on your FAFSA®?

A dependent student who is legally adopted would report adoptive parents in the same way as they would do so with biological parents.

If a student is not legally adopted but resides under the care of family members, foster parents, legal guardians or adults with a similar relationship, these caretakers are not included as parents on FAFSA® because the student is not legally adopted by them.

Special Considerations

What specific details should you include on your FAFSA®?

If your parents are legally separated or divorced, the date of your parents’ legal separation or divorce will be needed to complete your FAFSA®. Some financial aid offices may also ask for additional documentation about the divorce.

Additionally, if one parent is providing child support to your custodial parent, that will have to be reported as untaxed income on your FAFSA®. Make sure that child support is factored in as separate from alimony, which would be considered taxed income. 

What if the divorce is recent?

Since the FAFSA® uses tax returns from the previous year, recently divorced parents may have still filed taxes jointly that year.

It’s always a good idea to coordinate with your school’s financial aid office to ask if you need to provide any additional information about your situation. It can help you get more aid.

Because the financial aid picture for separated or divorced parents has some additional steps and considerations, it’s important to start the conversation and begin the FAFSA® process as early as possible.