My parents aren't divorced but are legally separated and have been
for about ten years. My mother is unable to remember where the
papers for their separation are. I was wondering if I have to put my
father's information on the FAFSA even though my mother is my primary
care-giver. (I spend all 365 days a year with her.) I don't know if I'm
supposed to because they aren't technically divorced and my guidance
counselor is also unsure.
— Samantha V.
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Divorce and a legal separation are treated the same way on the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Only one parent is
responsible for completing the FAFSA, and the income and asset
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information from the other parent is omitted. The other parent is
often referred to as the noncustodial parent.
The parent with whom the student lived the most during the 12 months
ending on the FAFSA application date is responsible for completing the
FAFSA. If the student lived equally with both parents, then the parent
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with whom the child lived the most during the most recent calendar
year is responsible for completing the FAFSA. It is rare for these
criteria to be insufficient, since there are an odd number of days in
the year. But it sometimes does happen that the parents have a
perfectly even split, such as might occur in a leap year with an even
number of days or a recent divorce or separation, or when the parents
have reconciled and are living together but have not yet remarried.
Otherwise, the parent responsible for completing the FAFSA is based on
whichever parent provided more support to the student.
Although the income and assets of the noncustodial parent are not reported on
the FAFSA, child support payments received by the parent who completes
the FAFSA must be reported on the FAFSA. Any other support provided by
the noncustodial parent to the student, such as help paying college bills,
must be reported as untaxed income to the student.
Children of divorced parents often qualify for more financial aid
because the need analysis is based on the finances of only one
parent. If the student lives with the parent with the lower income
that will also increase eligibility for need-based financial aid.
(About 250 colleges use a supplemental form, the CSS/Financial Aid
PROFILE form, for awarding their own financial aid funds. Many of
these colleges will require additional information from the
The college financial aid administrator may ask for a copy of the
divorce decree or separation agreement during verification. The
financial aid administrator is entitled to ask for this information
for any reason. The most common reasons for a financial aid
administrator to ask for a copy of the divorce decree or separation
agreement occur when there are questions concerning child support,
when there are questions concerning which parent has custody of the
student, or when the financial aid administrator suspects that the
parents are not really divorced or separated.
If the parent can't find the original separation agreement, perhaps a
copy can be obtained from the ex-spouse. In some cases a copy of the
separation agreement may have been filed with the county or the
court. The attorneys who drafted the separation agreement may have
kept a copy in their files. In some cases the financial aid
administrator will be willing to accept copies of documentation that
demonstrate that the parents have maintained separate residences,
since that might be sufficient to establish an informal separation.