I am the custodial parent for my daughter who will go to college
this fall. It will be her first year. My income was reported on the
FAFSA. This included child support, although my ex-husband has
recently stopped paying child support. Now the ex-husband wants access
to half of the funds available through the FAFSA to use toward his
half of our daughter's college costs. His income far exceeds mine and
was not taken into consideration for federal aid. Further, his income
would have been too high to have qualified for any federal aid. Am I
obligated to allow him to use half of the federal aid for his half of
our daughter's college expenses? My opinion is that the financial aid
was awarded based on my income (and child support which I now no
longer receive) and therefore, it is to help me pay for her tuition,
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If your ex-husband's obligation to provide half of your daughter's
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college expenses is due to a formal college support agreement, you
need to review the terms of that agreement and to consult with a
qualified attorney who is familiar with state law concerning college
support obligations. There are no federal laws or regulations that
speak to how divorced parents should split college costs.
Let's assume instead that your ex-husband voluntarily agreed to pay
for half of your daughter's college costs and that you are seeking a
fair method for splitting the costs.
While the amount of financial aid is based on an analysis of the
custodial parent's income and assets, the federal need analysis
formula assumes that the custodial parent will be paying for the
college costs on his or her own, not splitting the costs with a
wealthier ex-spouse. The financial aid formula also considers child
support and alimony payments received by the custodial parent from the
non-custodial parent, so it is not entirely accurate to argue that the
amount of financial aid was based solely on the finances of the
custodial parent. Thus it would not be fair to credit the financial
aid toward just one parent's share of the full cost of
attendance. Both of you should be grateful that the financial aid is
based primarily on your finances, since otherwise your daughter would
receive a lot less financial aid and both of you would be paying a
much greater share of her college costs.
Instead, the focus should be on how to allocate the remaining costs,
not the financial aid, since the financial aid is provided by the
government and the college, not the parents.
The remaining costs may be calculated by subtracting the need-based
financial aid package from the college's cost of attendance. When
calculating the remaining costs, do not subtract any non-need-based
loans from the cost of attendance. Some colleges include
non-need-based loans, such as the unsubsidized Stafford loan and
Parent PLUS loan, in the financial aid award letter to make the family
aware of the availability of these lower-cost federal education
loans. But these loans do not reduce the cost of attendance. These
loans are used to cover the family's share of college costs, spreading
the costs out over time.
Note also that a loan is a loan is a loan. Unless your ex-husband is
obligated to repay the loan, it does not represent part of the college
support he provides. Likewise, unless you are obligated to repay the
loan, it does not represent part of the college support you are
providing. For example, the Stafford and Perkins loans are student
loans, borrowed by your daughter. As such they do not represent
college support provided by either you or your ex-husband.
On the other hand, the Parent PLUS loan is a parent loan. Only the
parent who borrowed the Parent PLUS loan is required to repay it. You
and your ex-husband can each individually borrow from the Parent PLUS
loan program to pay for your share of college costs, per the
regulations at 34 CFR 682.201(c)(3). If a student's parents
are divorced, both the custodial parent and the noncustodial parent
are eligible to borrow from the Parent PLUS loan program, provided
that the combined loan amounts do not exceed the cost-of-attendance
minus other aid received.