The issue of how college expenses will be handled comes up in many of my divorce cases. It's common for parents to wait to divorce until their children are teenagers or young adults. This tends to be around the same time that people are preparing to send their children to college. Unfortunately, many are unprepared for the coming expenses.
Applying for and paying for college can be very stressful for many parents. Co-parenting is hard enough without the stress of supporting your kids through the college application process. Often, divorce settlements don't detail how college expenses will be handled. In fact, it's outside of the jurisdiction of many states' domestic relations courts. If college expenses are detailed in the agreement, they're often vague with limited concern around the details adding additional stress.
Enter the FAFSA. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is used to determine federal financial aids such as grants, work-study, and student loans. About two-thirds of students attending college are eligible for some form of aid.
The key to maximizing the financial aid your child will get is understanding and completing the FAFSA correctly. Providing too much information is actually the most common mistake that divorced parents make. If you report the income for too many adults, you could seriously hurt your chances of getting financial aid for your child.
Work together with your ex to maximize the financial aid opportunities for your child. I know that co-parenting is hard. I co-parent my kids with my ex and I really do understand that there are lots of ups and downs over the years. Here's the thing. If you can really set your differences aside and put your kids' education first, there are opportunities to work together to maximize the financial aid available to your child.
If you are not able to do this on your own, consider working with a mediator to work through how you will maximize your child's opportunities for financial aid.
The custodial parent for the FAFSA does not have to do with who has legal custody. For the FAFSA, the custodial parent refers to the parent who has the child for more than 50% of the time. If a child lives with each parent an equal amount of time, then the parent who provided more financial support over the last 12 months should be identified as the custodial parent. If the custodial parent is remarried, the income of the stepparent is also reported on the FAFSA. Below is an infographic that the US Department of Education provides to help you to determine who should be listed as the parent on the FAFSA form.
Consider college financial aid when making your parenting schedule, particularly if there is a substantial difference in income between the two parents. If the child is with the lower-income parent more than 50% of the time then the child will report the lower-income parent as the custodial parent. This is a common occurrence since the higher income parent tends to work more than the lower-income spouse. This could decrease the expected family contribution and increase how much aid they'll get. It's worth considering as you prepare your parenting schedule.
Get out your divorce decree. The FAFSA will ask for the date of your divorce so you'll need to find that. You'll also need basic info such as the child's social security number, parents' social security numbers, etc. Having tax returns, bank statements, and investment account statement handy will make completing the application easier.
Don't wait, either. While the deadline for filing isn't until June 30, you can complete the process as early as October 1. Keep in mind that the earlier you file, the more likely it will be that your child will receive grants and scholarships, as those tend to be allocated early on.
If you are recently divorced, take the time to contact the school directly. If your change in marital status happened after your FAFSA was filed, there may be additional aid available to you. You never know unless you ask.
For more information about the FAFSA or to get started with your application, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa.
If you are struggling to navigate coparenting your children when it comes to your finances, it might be time to reach out to a mediator. Contact Great Lakes Divorce Financial Services for a consultation today.