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Can a Parent Count a Child in Household Size and Also Report Amounts Paid in Child Support on the FAFSA?

Mark Kantrowitz

October 10, 2011

I am the custodial parent for my son and college-bound daughter. It seems like the form assumes that only non-custodial parents pay child support! However, I still pay their mother child support of over $1,600/month (they are with her slightly less than half the time). Do I report those child support payments on the FAFSA where it asks for “child support your father paid because of divorce or separation or as a result of a legal requirement”? — George G.

Child support payments made by a custodial parent may be reported on the FAFSA, but only under certain circumstances. If a child is counted as a member of the household on the FAFSA, then the child support payments made by the custodial parent on behalf of the child are not reported on the FAFSA. The FAFSA instructions clearly state “do not include support for children in your father’s household”. If the child is not counted as a member of the household on the FAFSA, then the child support payments made by the custodial parent on behalf of the child are reported on the FAFSA.

Note that the student is automatically counted in household size, so any child support payments made by the custodial parent on behalf of the student are not reported on the student’s FAFSA.

Each of the two possibilities — counting a child in household size or reporting child support payments made on behalf of the child — has a different impact on eligibility for need-based financial aid.

  • Child support payments made by the custodial parent, if reported on the FAFSA, are subtracted from the income reported on the FAFSA. (Similarly, child support payments received by the custodial parent are added to the income reported on the FAFSA as untaxed income.)

  • Each additional member of household size, on the other hand, increases the income protection allowance by about $4,000. (If the additional family member is also enrolled in college, the income protection allowance is increased by about $1,100 instead of $4,000.) The income protection allowance is subtracted from the income reported on the FAFSA.

The FAFSA does not allow the custodial parent to count a child in household size and also report child support payments made by the parent on behalf of the child because that would effectively be double dipping.

So there’s a tradeoff between increasing the income protection allowance or counting the child support payments made. Both reduce income, but by different amounts. If the increase in the income protection allowance exceeds the child support payments made by the custodial parent on behalf of a child, then counting the child in household size will yield a lower expected family contribution (EFC). Otherwise the EFC will be lower if the child is not counted in household size.

The income protection allowance is based on a standard set of figures for basic living expenses. Most child support payments will exceed the incremental increase in the income protection allowance for an additional child.


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