If your parents are divorced or separated you will need to determine which parent(s) will be considered when a college computes your eligibility for need-based financial aid.
Although most schools compute need-based aid eligibility based on the custodial household only, there are some schools that require information from both the custodial and the non-custodial parent before calculating aid eligibility for need-based aid. As a general rule, colleges that award a lot of need-based institutional grant require information from both parents, regardless of marital status. These schools typically require students to submit the CSS Profile and a Non-Custodial Parent form in addition to the FAFSA.
Q & A
What do you mean by the custodial household?
This means that if your custodial parent has remarried, the step-parent’s income and asset information must be included on the financial aid forms.
But what if there is a prenuptial agreement regarding paying for college?
It doesn’t matter. The FAFSA and the CSS Profile require information from both the custodial parent and the step-parent.
How do I determine who the custodial parent is?
Your custodial parent is the parent with whom you lived for the greater number of days in the 12 calendar months preceding the month in which you complete the FAFSA. So, if you complete the FAFSA in January of 2021, you would use your living situation for Jan-Dec of 2020 to determine your custodial parent.
The student lives with my mom, but dad pays child support and claims me on his tax return. What effect does this have on who is the custodial parent?
None. Financial aid “custody” is determined by whom the student lives with, not by the level of financial support or by who claims the student on the tax return.
What happens if the parents have joint custody and the student stays with each parent 50% of the time?
In cases where you cannot determine a custodial parent using “custody,” the FAFSA instructs you to use the data for the parent who provided you with more financial support during the same 12-month period. The assumption is that the parent with the higher income provided you with more support. If the facts in your family don’t support this assumption, use the parent who actually provided more support, regardless of the financial condition of each parent.
What happens when the student applies to one of those colleges that require information from both the custodial and non-custodial parent?
At these schools the custodial parent (and step-parent) completes the FAFSA and the CSS Profile and the non-custodial parent completes a special non-custodial form – usually the CSS Non-Custodial Profile.
If one or both parents has remarried, does the financial aid office compute eligibility based on more than two parents?
Usually not. Most colleges make an effort to untangle these situations and base institutional financial aid eligibility on the biological parents. Eligibility for federal aid, however, will always be based on the FAFSA, which is completed by the custodial parent – and step-parent if applicable.
What happens if there is a divorce decree stating that one parent is not is not responsible for college education costs?
Divorce decree’s and other legal agreements have no bearing on who is required to complete the financial aid application. If both parents are involved in the student’s life, both must submit the required forms.
But what if the non-custodial parent is unwilling to cooperate?
This is a difficult – but not uncommon – situation that might prevent the student from attending some colleges.
Eligibility for institutional need-based financial aid system is almost always based on an estimate of ability to pay and not willingness to pay so students must encourage their parents to complete the forms.
If a school requires non-custodial parent information and it is not received, the financial aid application will remain incomplete and no institutional need-based grant will be awarded. You will still receive any federal grants, loans and work-study opportunities for which you are eligible based on federal rules, but the school will almost certainly withhold institutional support.
If a student thinks he will face this situation, he should speak with the school financial aid office about the school’s non-custodial policy before applying so that he is not stuck in an impossible situation at the end of the process.
Is there any way to avoid the non-custodial requirement?
Yes – You may request a waiver in certain circumstances such as:
· You do not know where your non-custodial parent is and\or there has been no contact.
· There is limited or no contact because of an abusive situation.
In general the student must demonstrate that the non-custodial parent is not part of his life. If he or she is part of the student’s life in any way, the school will expect that they be responsible for some part of paying for college.
Most schools have a waiver request form that you must complete if you cannot provide non-custodial parent information. Sometimes you can download it from the website and sometimes you must call the financial aid office and request it