This year marks the first year one of our 5 children march off to college. Wow! It happened fast. This particular child is my stepson. I am paying 100% of his college costs. Sound familiar? Scared of having this happen to you? While I love him deeply, and am honored to be able to participate in this for him, a little planning prior to our big day would have been helpful 13 years ago during divorce proceedings. What I am personally facing is very common with others who pass through our office. Many, unfortunately, are not prepared to pay for these costs.

5 FAFSA Tips for Divorced Parents

make it on your own after divorce

Applying for and paying for college can be very stressful for many parents. Co-parenting is hard enough without the stress of supporting your kids through the college application process. Often, divorce settlements don’t detail how college expenses will be handled. In fact, it’s outside of the jurisdiction of many states’ domestic relations courts. If college expenses are detailed in the agreement, they’re often vague with limited concern around the details adding additional stress. Enter the FAFSA. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is used to determine federal financial aids such as grants, work-study, and student loans. About two-thirds of students attending college are eligible for some form of aid.

The key to maximizing the financial aid your child will get is understanding and completing the FAFSA correctly. Providing too much information is actually the most common mistake that divorced parents make. If you report the income for too many adults, you could seriously hurt your chances of getting financial aid for your child.

collaborate together

1. Collaborate with your ex

Work together with your ex to maximize the financial aid opportunities for your child. I know that co-parenting is hard. I co-parent my kids with my ex and I really do understand the ups and downs of this situation. If you can really set your differences aside and put your kids’ education first, there are opportunities to work together to maximize the financial aid available to your child.
If you are not able to do this on your own, consider working with a mediator to work through how you will maximize your child’s opportunities for financial aid.

2. How the FAFSA identifies the custodial parent

The custodial parent for the FAFSA does not have to do with who has legal custody. For the FAFSA, the custodial parent refers to the parent who has the child for more than 50% of the time. If a child lives with each parent an equal amount of time, then the parent who provided more financial support over the last 12 months should be identified as the custodial parent. If the custodial parent is remarried, the income of the stepparent is also reported on the FAFSA. Below is an infographic that the U.S. Department of Education provides to help you to determine who should be listed as the parent on the FAFSA form.

3. Remember the custodial parent criteria when creating your parenting schedule

Consider college financial aid when making your parenting schedule, particularly if there is a substantial difference in income between the two parents. If the child is with the lower-income parent more than 50% of the time then the child will report the lower-income parent as the custodial parent. This is a common occurrence since the higher income parent tends to work more than the lower-income spouse. This could decrease the expected family contribution and increase how much aid they’ll get. It’s worth considering as you prepare your parenting schedule.

graduation diplomas

4. Get prepared ahead of time

The FAFSA will ask for the date of your divorce and other basic information such as the child’s social security number, parents’ social security numbers, etc. Having tax returns, bank statements, and investment account statements handy will make completing the application easier.

Don’t wait, either. While the deadline for filing isn’t until June 30, you can complete the process as early as October 1. Keep in mind that the earlier you file, the more likely it will be that your child will receive grants and scholarships, as those tend to be allocated early on.

5. For the recently divorced

If you are recently divorced, take the time to contact the school directly. If your change in marital status happened after your FAFSA was filed, there may be additional aid available to you. You never know unless you ask.

Contact a Professional

For more information about FAFSA tips for divorced parents, or to get started with your application, visit

If you are struggling to navigate co-parenting your children when it comes to your finances, it might be time to reach out to a professional for guidance. Contact Divorce Strategies Group for a consultation today.