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What Counts as Child Support on the FAFSA?

Mark Kantrowitz

February 08, 2010

I am very grateful to Fastweb for providing all that you do. I am especially grateful for your answers to questions. I agreed (outside of the courts) to pay my daughter’s car payment and some additional spending money for internet access. This increased my costs by $100 per month beyond the child support obligation. Can I exclude this amount from the child support payments I have listed on the FAFSA? Unlike the child support, this money is being paid to my daughter directly. — Janice G.

The US Department of Education clarified in 2009 that child support includes only amounts paid because of a divorce decree, separation agreement or a legal child support agreement. Voluntary payments from the non-custodial parent to the student are instead treated as untaxed income to the student. This shifts some untaxed income from the parents to the student, which usually will result in a higher expected family contribution (EFC).

This also means that a parent who is paying child support does not report voluntary payments above his or her legal obligation on his or her own FAFSA. Since child support paid reduces total income on the FAFSA, this exclusion of the voluntary payments will usually result in a higher EFC for the parent.

Thus it is financially beneficial for both child and parent to ask the court amend the child support agreement to include the voluntary payments.

I am a single mom who has been divorced for 12 years. My children will be 18, 16 and 13 next year. My girls have lived with me 100% since day one. We live in Tennessee and their father lives in California. When we got divorced I never thought about asking him to pay for college. He makes about $200,000 a year, so he should be able to do this. I think the divorce papers probably say he is required to pay for child support till the girls are 18. Is there any way I can extend child support till they all get through college? I am assuming I would need to hire an attorney and go to court to do this. — Kay P.

Your first step should be to read your divorce decree to see what it says about child support and college support. Sometimes a divorce decree will extend child support through college graduation (provided that the student is enrolled continuously on at least a half-time basis). Sometimes a divorce decree will require college support.

Since you have a good relationship with your ex-husband, why not try asking him if he’d be willing to help out with their college costs? They are his children too, so he has a personal stake in their college success. He will be more willing to help out if you keep him informed and make him part of the college planning process. Tell him about their preparation for college, their test scores, the colleges they are considering, what they will be majoring in and their academic progress. If you ask nicely, he might help pay for their college education even if he has no legal obligation to do so.

Otherwise, talk to an attorney. Neither Tennessee nor California has laws requiring or prohibiting the awarding of college support as part of a divorce decree.

See FinAid’s page on Divorce and Financial Aid for additional discussion of college support.


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