Visiting, applying to and pursuing financing aid at colleges can be especially tricky for divorced or separated parents.

Yet, whether you are recently separated or long-time exes and on the best or the worst of terms, there are a few simple ways that you can team up to help your child.

There is no one right way to go about it, so the first step is to figure out what makes the most sense for your family. By getting a head start, setting clear expectations and establishing healthy modes of communication, both you and your ex can be equally involved in finding the college that will best serve your student.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

While it can be tough, it is important to put squabbling aside for the sake of your college-bound child. “During a stressful time, such as when parents are divorcing, it’s easy to let grades and SAT® scores slip,” says William Wheelan, founder of test preparation firm Sentia Education. “But strong scores can open the door not only to better college options, but also to scholarship money.”

The same goes for joining forces to help your child figure out what they might want to study. When it came time to start looking at colleges, humor author and father Rodney Lacroix realized that to find the best match, they needed to hone in on his daughter’s potential major. “This meant that the first conversations we had to have were about her interests,” he says. Once they figured out she wanted to pursue criminology, he, his ex-wife and his daughter were better able to filter colleges based on who offered programs in forensic study. From there, all three considered the requirements together.

Get Started Early, Especially With Financial Aid

This is particularly important for you given the extra layers of communication and negotiation you must manage. It’s also why Kate Driver, director of school counseling at Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough, Massachusetts, recommends kicking off the college application process as early as sophomore year. Start by learning about financial aid — it will provide a strong foundation and help you avoid surprises later on.

First things first: Get familiar with the different financial aid applications and what is required of each parent. For the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), which is used by most colleges, only the custodial parent or the one the child lived with the most during the past 12 months must report their income. If the custodial parent is remarried, they must include their spouse’s income as well. The CSS Profile, on the other hand, is used primarily by colleges with non-federal financial aid to award, so it asks for much more detail. For this, both parents must report their incomes.

Establish a System

While the details of how you and your ex delegate and communicate will, of course, depend on your relationship and personalities, you want to put in place a plan up front. “Use this agreed-upon method to make other decisions, like who will support which parts of the process,” says Driver.

Lacroix is currently in the middle of the college application process with his oldest daughter and ex-wife. He has found being on good terms with his ex to be invaluable, and he highly recommends “mending bridges” if at all possible. “It’s important to get the other person’s thoughts, because what you may see as a great fit for your child could raise red flags for your co-parent,” he says. “Communication is key.”

And since there is bound to be a lot of information to keep track of, experts are all about organizing it in a shared Google doc or spreadsheet. “I recommend this for every student and family,” says Driver. “But it can be especially helpful for families who aren’t able to have these conversations all in the same room.” Travel dates for campus visits are particularly important to keep on top of when joint custody is involved, adds Ashley Goldsmith, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, so be sure to add those to the spreadsheet too.

“Arm them with information from both parents about what’s feasible in terms of finances, distance and any other considerations that may be on your list.”

Put Your Child in the Driver’s Seat

To empower your child while making things easier with your ex, let the student take the lead. “Allow them to be in charge of keeping track of things like application deadlines, test dates, scheduling visits and writing the applications,” says Goldstein. “[Choosing a college] should be as much in your child’s control as possible to prepare them for the responsibilities of adulthood.”

Of course, there’s a difference between empowering your child and putting them in the middle, says Driver. “Arm them with information from both parents about what’s feasible in terms of finances, distance and any other considerations that may be on your list,” she says. “Working together in a support role can be easier than getting into a battle of wills if both parents are trying to take over.”

Commit to Staying Involved

Take this pledge along with your ex, because equal involvement can cut down on resentment and misunderstandings. “Many high schools offer programming, such as college night, financial aid night, etc. to help families,” says Driver. “Both parents should do their best to attend all of these so they’re hearing the same information.”

If joint college visits are not feasible, try to divvy them up so that both parents — and most importantly, the student — can experience a range of options. It’s easy to skip out when they seem like too much of a logistical challenge, but Wheelan says that physically going and seeing the schools can have a profound impact. “Often when our students visit a college and can envision what their lives will be like as college freshmen, it inspires them to redouble their efforts.” It’s important for parents to be a part of this not only to support their child, but also to gather valuable insights of their own.

“As a parent, really try to be aware of what emotions are coming up.”

Lean on Professionals for Help

Especially for parents who do not have an entirely amicable relationship, college advisers and high school counselors can be an invaluable resource. They can help with everything from managing communication to figuring out the details of financial aid.

Goldstein notes that the college process can trigger a lot of feelings, and a neutral, well-informed professional can work wonders. As a parent, really try to be aware of what emotions are coming up,” she says. “Are you getting nervous about your child moving far away and therefore advising against an application or visit to a college in another state? Is this process bringing up unworked-through feelings from the divorce? Is talking about money proving particularly delicate? It’s worth involving a college or financial adviser to help you and your family work through the nitty-gritty parts.”

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to keep your child’s interests front and center. Applying to colleges is an exciting and nerve-wracking time, but if approached thoughtfully, you may find that your ex can be a valuable partner and co-parent during the sometimes wild ride.

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