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Clearing Up Confusion. What are Parents Responsible for on FAFSA?

Mark Kantrowitz

January 25, 2010

There seems to be a lot of confusion about which parent is responsible for completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), so I’m answering a few more questions on this topic. The references to “father’s/stepfather’s” on the FAFSA can be confusing for children of divorced parents.

I’m 17 yrs old and I live with my mother and my stepfather. I have been living with my stepfather since I was 6. I also receive child support from my biological father but he has never helped me with anything besides the child support. In addition, the FAFSA application is asking for my father’s income and information. My mother doesn’t want me to answer those questions about him because my father has never helped me with anything and is not willing to help me with my college expenses. He is just waiting for me to turn 18 so he can stop giving me child support. Can I just leave those questions blank or just submit the information of my stepdad? But my mother and my stepfather are not married. Can you just give me some advice? — Darlene G.

Since you live with your mother, she is responsible for completing the FAFSA. Her ex-husband’s (your biological father’s) financial information is not reported on the FAFSA. The amount of any child support you receive is reported on the FAFSA, but not your biological father’s income and assets.

When a student’s biological parents are divorced or separated (either an informal separation or a legal separation) only the parent with whom the student lived the most during the past 12 months is responsible for completing the FAFSA. If the student lived with neither parent more, the parent who provided the greater amount of support to the student is responsible for completing the FAFSA.

If the parent responsible for completing the FAFSA has remarried, the stepparent’s income and asset information must also be reported on the FAFSA even if there is a prenuptial agreement.

Since your stepfather is not married to your mother, his financial information is not reported on the FAFSA. He can be counted in household size if he lives with you and your mother provides more than half his support.

Technically, if your stepfather has not married your mother or adopted you, he is not a stepfather as he is not related to you.

My son is a senior in high school. His father has been out of work and has a very small income of less than $20,000 a year. I have an income of about $20,000 a year as well. We both live in Indiana and he plans to attend college in Indiana. He lives with his dad, but I do have custody of him. No support is exchanged. He has lived with his dad for 3 years and plans to go to college and live with me while doing so. The issue is that I remarried recently and my new husband has an income of over $100,000 per year. Will his income exclude my son from receiving financial aid? Will it make a difference if he lives with us instead of my husband while attending college? PLEASE HELP. I researched this info and can’t seem to find the answer. — Susan H.

Since your son lives with his father, his father will be responsible for completing the FAFSA this year. Your son will likely qualify for a full Pell Grant as a result.

Your information will not be reported on the FAFSA even though you have custody because the FAFSA uses a different set of requirements. The “custodial parent” for federal student aid purposes is not necessarily the same as the parent who has legal custody.

However, if your son lives with you while he’s enrolled in college, you will become responsible for completing the FAFSA for the subsequent years. Your spouse’s income and assets will then have to be included on the FAFSA because he’s married to you. This will likely prevent your son from qualifying for the Pell Grant.

Thus, it will be financially beneficial to have your son continue to live with his father while he’s in college. He can visit you during vacations, so long as he lives more with his father than with you.


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