I am confused about which parent's information to include on the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). My ex-husband paid
child support for 7 months this year from a settlement agreement but has
been unemployed for nearly two years. He is re-married. My son is 18, lives
with me, and starts college next fall. This year my ex-husband gets to
list my son as an exemption on his taxes, and I get to claim the
exemption thereafter. I have no debt but a single mortgage on my
residence. He probably has more debt. When I called the FAFSA people they
said that I can use whichever parent we consider to contribute the
most support regardless of where my son lives or who claims him as an
exemption on their taxes. If I can get my ex-husband to cooperate,
would my son qualify for more aid if my ex-husband completes the
FAFSA, since he's unemployed?
— Susan W.
The information you got from the Federal Student Aid Information
Center (1-800-4-FED-AID) is not entirely accurate. Since your son
lives with you, you are responsible for completing the FAFSA. If your
son lived with both of you equally during the past twelve months, then
the parent who provided more support would be responsible for
completing the FAFSA. The support test is only used as a
tiebreaker. Also, support for federal student aid purposes and support
for federal income tax purposes are not the same. So the parent who
gets to claim him on the income tax return is irrelevant, especially
in cases involving exemptions allocated by a multiple support
agreement or divorce decree.
Colleges can and will request a copy of the divorce decree to verify
responsibility for completing the FAFSA and child support
If your son lived with both of you more or less equally, there is some
flexibility in determining which parent is responsible for completing
the FAFSA to the extent that you have control over the living
arrangements and/or support. A day plus or minus could make a big
difference. Likewise, support can be manipulated. Generally, if you
can control which parent is responsible for completing the FAFSA, the
child will get more financial aid if the parent with the lower income
(including the income of that parent's spouse, if the parent remarried) is
responsible for completing the FAFSA.
Whenever you call 1-800-4-FED-AID for information about the FAFSA, it
is a good idea to write down the name of the person who answered the
call. The Federal Student Aid Information Center does a good job of
training the staff who answer the phones, but sometimes new staff give
inaccurate or even bizarre answers. (If the person who answered the
phone seems unsure, sometimes it helps to call back to see if someone
else gives you a different answer.)
Most consumer debt is ignored on the FAFSA. Debt that is secured
by a reportable asset, such as a margin loan on a brokerage account,
is subtracted from the value of the asset. A mortgage on your
principal place of residence is ignored because your home is not
reported on the FAFSA.
My son will be attending college this fall. I have been divorced
from his father for 16 years and I have not received any child support
in over 5 years. My ex-husband lost his job and has been almost
homeless ever since. In addition, he has not filed taxes during the
past 5 years as well. I remarried 6 years ago and my husband and I
support my son entirely. The FAFSA asks for both parents information (as
well as step-parents). Should I include my ex-husband's information on
the form (not sure if it's actually required) or would it be more
beneficial to omit his information?
— Patricia L.
Since your son lives with you, you are responsible for completing the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your ex-husband's
information is not reported on the FAFSA. Your current husband's
information, however, is reported on the FAFSA.
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
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
I am currently in a sticky situation. My parents have been divorced
for 10 years. My dad is disabled and unemployed. My mom is remarried.
I live with my mom and my step-dad the entire year. My step-dad, who
claims me on his taxes, makes a lot of money (more than $150,000).
Unfortunately he will not be contributing at all to my college
fund. My real dad will be contributing a little (about $500). When I
fill out the FAFSA, do I need to include my step-dad or my real dad?
Both will contribute very little. If I need to include my step-dad,
my EFC will be considerably less because of the large amount of money
he makes, even though he will contribute nothing. What should I do? I
look like a little rich kid when in actuality, I only have help from
my mom, who already has to deal with my three siblings.
— Chris G.
Since you live with your mother the entire year, your mother is
responsible for completing the FAFSA. Since she has remarried, your
step-father's financial information must be reported on the FAFSA, per
section 475(f)(3) of the Higher Education Act of 1965. (Your
biological father's information is not reported.) Your step-father's
refusal to contribute to your education is irrelevant. Likewise, a
prenuptial agreement has no impact on this requirement. Your
step-father's information would still be required on the FAFSA even if
he didn't claim you as an exemption on his income tax return.
This means you will qualify for very little need-based financial aid,
as your financial need will be based on your step-father's income.
I have never lived with my biological father and he does nothing
for me, especially not child support. My mother does not work and she
is now separated from my stepfather who is retired. How would my
mother and I deal with the FAFSA and scholarships pertaining to these
things? We are really confused and can't afford college without
— Shanna B.
Since you live with your mother, she is responsible for completing the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your biological
father's information is not reported on the FAFSA. Your stepfather's
information is only required while he is married to your mother. Since
he is separated from your mother, his information is not reported on
the FAFSA. (The separation does not need to be a legal separation. An
informal separation is sufficient, so long as your mother and
stepfather do not live together.)
Some colleges may require information from your biological father
and/or your stepfather. This is for awarding their own financial aid
funds. It does not affect eligibility for federal and state student