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When is a Stepparent or Adoptive Parent's Income Reported on the FAFSA?

Mark Kantrowitz

February 07, 2011

My daughter’s father and I are divorced and I have remarried. Neither my previous nor my new husband are contributing toward my daughter’s education, so I am paying all of the expenses myself. How can I show that in my taxes and on the FAFSA so the aid calculations are not made using twice the income that is actually being applied toward her expenses? Last year, I couldn’t figure it out and she received no funding at all. After one year, I’ve used all of my savings and have gone into debt. The prospect of three more years of the same thing means I’ll have to work until I’m 80 to pay off her undergraduate education. — Sara J.

You must include the income and assets of your spouse on your daughter’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is a matter of federal law.

Section 475(f)(3) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 specifies that if the parent responsible for completing the FAFSA has remarried as of the application date, the stepparent’s financial information must be reported on the FAFSA. This requirement applies regardless of whether the parent is divorced, separated or a widow or widower.

There are no exceptions, not even if you have a prenuptial agreement, file separate income tax returns or weren’t married until this year.

If you appeal for more aid because your husband refuses to contribute, the appeal will be denied. The US Department of Education does not consider parental refusal to contribute to the student’s education as sufficient justification for a dependency override or other adjustments. College financial aid administrators do not have the authority to change statutory requirements and can’t make adjustments in the absence of unusual circumstances.

The federal government considers the student’s parents, including the stepparent if the custodial parent has remarried, as having the primary responsibility to pay for the student’s college education. The government only steps in when the parents are unable to pay for college, not when they are merely unwilling to pay for college. Students do not qualify for more aid simply because their parents refuse to help.

It could be worse. The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE form, which is used by about 250 colleges for awarding their own financial aid funds, expects both the stepparent and the noncustodial parent to contribute to the child’s education.

My husband and I have four daughters in college, two from his previous marriage and two from my previous marriage. All four girls live on their own. He is divorced from his daughters’ mom and they get their college paid for plus some by financial aid. My two daughters’ father passed away nine years ago. They do not qualify for any assistance at all because I remarried. Can this be right? This does not seem fair at all! It seems like students who have only one parent should not be disqualified for help because their mother remarried. — Susan S.

Your husband’s daughters live with their mother. Since she is divorced and has not remarried, their financial aid eligibility is based only on her income and assets.

You, on the other hand, have remarried, so your daughters must report your husband’s finances along with yours on their FAFSA. As noted in the answer to the previous question, the stepparent’s finances must be reported on the FAFSA when the stepparent is married to the parent who completes the FAFSA, even if the parent was a widow or widower.

It may not seem fair that your daughters qualify for less financial aid, but your daughters actually have two parents, you and your husband. It is because your husband could contribute, even if he is unwilling, that your daughters do not qualify for as much financial aid. His ex-wife doesn’t have the same advantage as you, since you’re married to him and she isn’t.

You are effectively saying that you think the government should have a greater responsibility to pay for your daughters’ education than the man you married.


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