Applying for college is an intense, emotional, and expensive process for everyone involved. Financial aid is a crucial resource for college students, but divorced parents may find the process more complicated.


When preparing for financial aid, it is crucial that parents understand who represents the Provider. The provider is the parent who provides more financial support and emotional security. Determining this position may be difficult, especially for parents with a custody arrangement and those who share responsibilities. It’s important to decide who will check the box beforehand.

A note about private schools: private institutions process financial aid differently and rely on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications to determine eligibility. The rules for FAFSA at private schools may vary widely.

How FAFSA Looks At Divorce

FAFSA is the format for student financial aid. It is the template created by the federal government and allows students to apply for federally backed loans. Because FAFSA is part of the Department of Education – a government agency – it defines relationships in a similar way to the IRS (another government agency).

The application will ask parents about their marital status, but the right answer isn’t what parents might expect. Ultimately, FAFSA relies on the legal definitions of marriage, divorce, and separation and requires parents to determine each other’s share of parental responsibilities. For divorced parents, only the custodial parent needs to complete the parent portion of the FAFSA.

Students With Divorced Parents

If a student shares time with both parents and gets the same financial support, it’s important to select the parent with the lowest income for the financial section. This ensures that FAFSA gives a reasonable amount of aid and helps the student to qualify for more support.

Alimony and child support does impact FAFSA and students must read the income section carefully. Also remember: FAFSA and financial aid is available on a first come first served basis which means any complications could jeopardize eligibility.


While there are financial support systems for college students, they can be a double-edged sword. Without careful consideration and absolute honesty, a student could lose out on much-needed financial aid.

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