If your parents (or legal guardians) are divorced or separated, it’s important to understand how your parents will fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

The rules of filling out FAFSA are the same for everyone, regardless of any custody or separation agreements: The parent who contributes the most financially (not necessarily who the student primarily lives with) is responsible for sharing information on the form. The FAFSA considers the tax year two years prior (i.e., the prior-prior tax year) to the application. For example, the 2024-25 FAFSA uses reporting from 2022 tax returns.

Here are some of the biggest questions on how to report this income on the FAFSA. Read through, share with your parents, and develop a game plan so you can easily fill out the FAFSA when it becomes available.

When Do Students Report Their Parents’ Marital Status on the FAFSA?

The FAFSA considers most students dependent up to age 24—even if they are living on their own (unless they are legally emancipated) and making their own money—so they will need to provide information about their parents, including marital status, when completing the application. Dependency is determined through a series of questions and isn’t based on whether parents are able or willing to pay for college.

If the Parents Are Divorced and Living Separately, Which One Provides Financial Information on the FAFSA?

Financial information should come from the parent who has provided the most financial support to the child in the prior-prior tax year. This information includes alimony and child support. This is a change from the past, when the primary custodial parent was responsible for sharing their financial information.

What if the Parents Are Divorced or Separated and Still Live Together?

If the parents are divorced and still live together, then indicate your marital status as “unmarried and both parents living together” and provide financial information for both parents. If the parents are separated and still live together, then indicate your marital status as “married or remarried” and provide financial information for both parents.

Are Parents Required to Provide Financial Information for Stepparents?

Yes, you must include financial information for the spouse of the primary financial provider, regardless of who is responsible for  college expenses based on the divorce agreement.

Are Stepchildren Included in Family Size?

Yes, stepchildren are included in family size, if the stepchildren are claimed as dependents on the parent tax return. If parents are remarried, children are required to list the stepparent on the FAFSA form. In the past, the FAFSA considered the number of children enrolled simultaneously in college. Part of the past calculation divided the expected family contribution (EFC) by the number of children in college, which is no longer the case.

How Do We Report Child Support or Alimony?

Any child support or alimony received is reported as an asset. In the past, it was considered untaxed income. But child support and alimony will be factored into deciding which parent contributes the most financial support to a child. For example, if Parent A earns $200,000 and pays $30,000 in alimony and $20,000 in child support to Parent B, who makes $50,000, Parent A contributes the most financially, and is reported on the FAFSA.

Do Colleges Ever Look at the Financial Information for the Parent Who Didn’t Report on the FAFSA?

Some colleges do request additional financial information when granting institutional financial aid. This information is obtained using a supplemental financial aid form from the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent’s income may affect institutional aid but has no impact on federal or state aid.

You may need to talk to the financial aid office if you have further questions about your specific household situation. Because the FAFSA Simplification Act affected the way families report their income, families who have gone through the FAFSA process before may be surprised at what information is needed. It can be a good idea to talk with a financial expert, as well as your former partner, to ensure everyone is on the same page.

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

We encourage you to consult a financial planner before making financial decisions. For tax advice, visit IRS.gov or ask a tax professional if you have questions.

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