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Filling Out FAFSA With Divorced Parents

By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: March 25th, 2024
Filling Out FAFSA With Divorced Parents

Students with divorced parents will probably have a few questions as they fill out the FAFSA. You’ll have to figure out whose income you need to report and whose you can leave off. Luckily, divorced parents can help to increase a student’s financial aid package significantly. We’ll show you exactly what you need to report, and how you may end up receiving more aid.

Related: When is this year’s FAFSA deadline?

Determine your custodial parent(s)

If your parents are divorced and do not live together, you’ll only report one of their incomes on the FAFSA. This can be beneficial to your financial aid package. The less income you report, the lower your SAI, or Student Aid Index, will be. A lower SAI leads to a higher aid package.

Students with divorced parents are required to report the income of their custodial parent on the FAFSA. They define the custodial parent as the parent you lived with for the longest time over the past 12 months. If you lived with both parents equally, you should report the income of the parent that contributed the most financially.

See also: FAFSA 101 Guide

Maximizing your financial aid

If your parents have a large discrepancy in income, your custodial parent can make a huge difference in your SAI. You may want to strategize who you live with before you fill out the FAFSA to maximize your aid. If you live with your parent with a lower income for the majority of the year, you will receive more aid.

However, you should remember that the FAFSA is not the only determinant of financial aid. Many schools utilize the CSS Profile to determine institutional aid. The CSS Profile takes into account both parents’ finances regardless of residency. So your FAFSA may only determine your eligibility for federal programs like the Pell Grant or Federal SEOG.

See also: CSS Profile vs. FAFSA: What you need to know

Don’t include more than you have to

Remember – the less income that you report, the better your FAFSA results will be. So, if you don’t have to report the income of your second parent, make sure that you don’t. You should never commit fraud or abstain from reporting income that is required. But if you find out that a source of income doesn’t need to be reported, don’t report it. Oversharing your information will lead to a reduced aid package. 

Related: How to fill out the FAFSA if parents did not file income tax

How divorced parents impact FAFSA results

If your parents are divorced and live separately, the income reported on your FAFSA will differ. Depending on the income of your custodial parent and/or their new spouse, you may receive more or less aid. If you are able to choose which parent you live with, you can play this to your advantage. If you live with your lower-income parent for most of the year, you will receive more aid from the FAFSA.

Also see: What if my parents refuse to pay for college?

Frequently asked questions about filing out the FAFSA with divorced parents

Should I report my stepparent’s income?

If your custodial parent is remarried, you’ll have to report their spouse’s income. If they live with a significant other but are unmarried, you do not need to report their partner’s income. However, if their partner contributes directly to rent or utilities, that sum must be reported as untaxed income.

What if my parents are divorced but still live together?

 If your parents are divorced but still live together, you’ll have to report both of their incomes. Even if they have never been married, you’ll have to report information for both of them.

What if I don’t live with my parents?

If you don’t live with your parents, you’ll still have to report their income unless you have been adopted. You can also refrain from reporting their income if you file as an independent student. However, this process has strict requirements and most students don’t qualify.

What if my parents are married but live separately?

 If your parents are married but live separately, you should still report both of their incomes. Unfortunately, this may raise your SAI and lower your aid package.

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