How to Complete the FAFSA with Divorced Parents

Abigail Eun
Abigail Eun

Abigail Eun is a freelance writer and personal finance expert. Through diligent research and continuous learning, she has honed her knowledge in budgeting, saving, investing, and debt management. Abigail is passionate about helping people get their finances in order. She believes that everyone should have access to the information they need to make sound financial decisions. Her goal is to provide clear and concise information that is easy to understand.

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November 29, 2022

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is open for next school year. The earlier you submit it, the better.

If you have divorced parents, navigating the FAFSA might be a little more difficult. It has its own set of guidelines on who you can report as your “custodial” parent on the application. 

No matter what your family situation may be, we’re here to help. Keep reading for information on how to fill out the FAFSA with divorced parents. 

Who Counts as a Parent on the FAFSA?

Only legal parents count as a parent on the FAFSA. Grandparents, foster parents, and legal guardians do not qualify unless they have legally adopted you. 

Even if you don’t live with either of your legal parents, you will still need to report their financial information on the FAFSA. If you have lived with a remarried legal parent for the majority of the past 12 months, you will also have to put your stepparent’s information down. 

If you are legally emancipated, were a ward of the court after the age of 13, or have deceased parents, the FAFSA considers you as an independent student. There is a separate process for filing the FAFSA as an independent. 

Which of the Divorced Parents Should Complete the FAFSA?

Depending on your living circumstances, there are two options for completing the FAFSA with divorced parents:

If Your Parents Live Together

If your parents do live together, you can indicate their living status as “unmarried and both legal parents living together” on the FAFSA.

If Your Parents Don’t Live Together

If your parents do not live together, the FAFSA will ask you which parent you have lived with for the majority of the past 12 months. 

If you have lived with each parent equally, you will be asked about which parent gave you the most financial support during the past 12 months.

Steps to Complete the FAFSA with Divorced Parents

There are three main steps you will have to take: 

Step 1: Determine Your Custodial Parent

To figure out who your custodial parent is, ask yourself the following questions:

#1: Are your parents married?
If yes, report both of your parents’ information on the FAFSA. If not, ask yourself the following question.

#2: Do your parents live together?
If yes, report both of your parent’s information on the FAFSA (even if they have never been married, divorced, or separated).  If the answer is no, ask yourself the following question.

#3: Have you lived with one parent more than the other within the past 12 months?
If yes, report the information of the parent you have lived with more on the FAFSA. If the answer is no, go to the next step (#4).

#4: Report the information of the parent who provided you with more financial support over the past 12 months.
If this parent is remarried, you will also have to report the information of your stepparent on the FAFSA.

The following infographic from Federal Student Aid (FSA) can also serve as a visual guide for determining your custodial parent.

After determining your custodial parent, keep in mind that you should only report their information when prompted on parent information (and your stepparent if you have lived with them for over 12 months). 

For example, when the FAFSA asks about your parent’s highest education, you should only report your custodial parent’s information (and your stepparent’s information if applicable), and not your other parent’s information. 

Step 2: Gather the Correct Information

Gather the following information to complete the FAFSA. You will most likely have to work with your determined custodial parent to collect the necessary documents.

  1. Your social security card 
  2. Your custodial parent’s social security card
  3. Any form of self-identification (driver’s license, real I.D., passport, etc.)
  4. Your custodial parent’s 2021 tax returns 
  5. Your custodial parent’s 2021 untaxed income records 
  6. Your custodial parent’s 2021 W-2 forms 
  7. Your custodial parent’s current bank statements 

Step 3: Include Child Support (If Applicable)

The FAFSA requires you to report any child support your custodial parent receives. Alimony is considered taxable income and is already reported on your custodial parent’s tax information, so it does not have to be reported again.

Do You Get More Money on the FAFSA if Your Parents Are Divorced?

It depends who your custodial parent is.

If your divorced parents live separately, you have to report the custodial parent’s income on the FAFSA, not the other parent’s. If you live with the parent who has a lower income, your estimated family contribution (EFC) will be lower, which can lead you to receive more aid. 

That being said, child support and alimony are taken into account on the FAFSA, so there isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get more money simply because your parents are divorced.

Closing Thoughts From the Nest

As you navigate the FAFSA with divorced parents, don’t forget to ask for help. The school’s financial aid office has dealt with situations like yours and more, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

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