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Which parent is responsible for completing the financial aid application?

Mark Kantrowitz

January 04, 2010

I recently enrolled in a community college. I am a displaced housewife, mother of two children and a domestic violence survivor. I was laid off from my part-time job a few months ago. The Student Aid Report (SAR) declared that I do not qualify for financial aid based on my husband’s salary last year. My children and I are living on the child support, $200 alimony and food stamps. If I cannot find aid I will have to quit before I really even get started. I was denied my education when I was living with my husband. And now I have no idea what to do. — Natalie H.

If you filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as separated or divorced, your husband’s income should not have been reported on the FAFSA. You do not need to have a legal separation to qualify as separated for federal student aid purposes. An informal separation is sufficient, so long as you do not cohabit with your husband. It is possible that your own income may have caused you to be ineligible for the Pell Grant.

Ask the financial aid office at your college for a professional judgment review. Provide them with documentation of your job loss, such as the layoff notice or recent (within 90 days) documentation of the receipt of unemployment benefits. Also provide them with documentation of the domestic violence, such as a letter from a social worker or the director of a women’s shelter who is familiar with your situation, or copies of police reports or court protection from abuse orders. The financial aid office can adjust the income figures on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to reflect your current income instead of last year’s income and to exclude your husband’s income.

I receive child support currently but will not when my daughter goes to school. If I report the child support on the FAFSA we do not qualify for much help, without it we do. I did not put any of the money aside for college (sorry, had to eat). Do I have to claim the child support? I also only get support for one child but support two (one already in college). — Mary Ann B.

The information on the FAFSA is based on the prior tax year. You have to report the child support. If you fail to report it, the college will consider it to be conflicting information that must be resolved before aid can be disbursed. (They will know that you are divorced and the age of your child and so will question the failure to report the receipt of child support payments.) As I note in the answer to the last question of the November 23, 2009 Ask Kantro column, you can ask the college financial aid administrator to make an adjustment because of the impending discontinuation of child support. However, if you fail to report the child support, the college financial aid administrator will be less willing to accommodate your request. Honesty is always the best policy.

Incidentally, when you have two children in college at the same time, you should experience a significant increase in each child’s financial aid eligibility. The parental contribution portion of the expected family contribution (EFC) is divided by the number of children in college.

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