I am remarried and my husband pays child support for his two
children that live with their mother. They pass the support test. Do
we include his children in our household size as well as report the
amount he pays for child support for them? If it's only one or the
other, which is more financial beneficial from a FAFSA standpoint?
Counting the child support paid and counting the supported children in
household size is an either-or situation on the Free Application for
Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can do one or the other, but not
(Be careful to distinguish between child support paid
child support received
. The child support paid figure on the
FAFSA will reduce total income. The child support received figure, on
the other hand, is treated as untaxed income and will increase total
The student is always counted in household size on the student's
FAFSA. The household size also includes the parent's dependent
children who would be deemed to be dependent students if they were
applying for financial aid. Foster children are not counted in
Whether other children are included in household size depends on the
support test, not residence. If and only if a child will receive more
than half of his or her support from the student's parents during the
award year, the child should be counted in household size. The child
does not need to live in the home to be counted. The support test rule
is intended to address divorced or separated parents who support a
child who does not live with them.
Note that the support test is not necessarily restricted to just the
amounts reported as child support paid on the FAFSA. Only child
support paid or received because of a legal child support agreement is
reported in response to the corresponding child support questions on
the FAFSA. Additional amounts paid beyond the amount required by the
child support agreement are not included in these figures but may
nevertheless factor into the support test. Also, government benefits
received by the parent in the child's name, such as TANF, SNAP, Social
Security benefits, the earned income tax credit and additional child
tax credits, count as part of the parent's support of the child.
If a child is counted in household size on a student's FAFSA, then any
child support payments made for the benefit of the child by the
student's parents are not reported on the FAFSA. The child support
payments may be reported only if the child fails the support test. The
FAFSA instructions are quite clear, telling applicants to not report
child support for children in their parents' household.
The federal need analysis formula bases the income-protection
allowance (IPA) on the household size. The IPA is subtracted from income, as is the child support
paid, so counting a child in household size and counting the child
support paid on behalf of the child would effectively be
double-counting the support.
Generally when a parent pays a substantial amount of child support, it is more
beneficial to report the child support payments and to not include the
children in household size. It all depends on whether the child
support payments per child exceed the increase in the IPA for an
additional child in the household size.
However, if a child who receives child support (including college
support) is enrolled in college, it may be more beneficial to count
the child in household size. Only children who are included in
household size can be counted in the number in college on the
FAFSA. The parent contribution portion of the expected family
contribution is divided roughly by the number of children in
college. This can have a big impact on eligibility for need-based aid,
sometimes greater than the impact of counting the child support
To determine which approach is more beneficial, use a need analysis
calculator like the one on the FinAid web site to explore both
scenarios and see which yields the lower EFC.
Often there is little choice in whether a child is counted in
household size or not. The parents either provided more than half
support or did not. If the FAFSA is selected for verification, the
verification worksheet will ask questions about child support paid to
confirm whether the family was entitled to count the child in
household size or not.
Note that college financial aid administrators are likely to question
situations in which the amount of child support paid is inconsistent
with the inclusion or exclusion of the child in household size. The
financial aid administrator can ask for documentation relating to
child support payments, including a copy of the divorce decree or
separation agreement, a copy of the child support agreement and proof
of the amount of child support paid.