Financial Aid

Applying for Financial Aid When Parents Are Divorced

Learn how to file the FAFSA (where only one parent will provide information), how to file the CSS Profile (where both parents usually provide information), and what to do on the CSS Profile if the other parent is not available.
A parent and student filing for financial aid

I have a daughter applying to college this fall and we just completed the financial aid application process over the weekend. I happen to be divorced, and as someone with a background in financial aid, know that there are additional things to understand about applying for financial aid for students who have divorced or separated parents. To help other families in my situation, I thought I'd share some things to keep in mind.

Filing the FAFSA®

If a student's parents are divorced or separated, then the student and one parent will complete the FAFSA (along with that parent's current spouse, if there is one). The parent who completes the FAFSA should be the one who provided more financial support for the student over the previous 12 months (even if the student doesn't live with that parent). If neither parent provided support in the past year, the parent who provided more financial support in the most recent year that the student received financial support should complete the FAFSA. If equal support was given by both parents, the parent with the higher income and assets should complete the FAFSA. The student's other parent will not fill out any part of the FAFSA. Child support paid is credited to the parent paying the child support for purposes of determining which parent provides more financial support (but is reported as an asset by the parent receiving the support). 

Filing the CSS Profile®

If the student is applying to one or more colleges that require the CSS Profile, the parent that provides more financial support for the student (just as is the case for the FAFSA), and that parent's current spouse, if there is one, should complete the CSS Profile with the student. However, many colleges that require the CSS Profile also require the other biological parent (referred to as the noncustodial parent by the CSS Profile) to supply information. In those instances, that other parent will submit his or her own CSS Profile. If that parent is remarried, he or she will include information on the Profile about his or her current spouse.

Here is How the Process Works

When the student and parent complete the CSS Profile, they provide the name and email address of the noncustodial parent and can request that the noncustodial parent receive an email with a request to complete a separate Profile. When the noncustodial parent receives the email, he or she will follow a link to the CSS Profile website, click the button for the appropriate application award year, and then click Sign Up. In order for the noncustodial parent to fulfill the requirement to submit a separate Profile, that parent will need to create a new student account. So after clicking Sign Up, the parent will complete the form to create a new student account, but (and this is key!) the parent will create the account using parent information, even though the form asks for student information. It may seem strange but this is how it's done! Once the noncustodial parent has created the new account, that parent (and his or her current spouse, if there is one), will complete the application.

The Profile provides further instructions for families with divorced or separated parents on its website here.

When the Noncustodial Parent is Not Available 

If the student knows information about the noncustodial parent (such as full name and address) but is not able to have that parent complete a separate Profile (for example, due to a court order of no contact), the student may request that the colleges requiring a Profile from the noncustodial parent waive that requirement. The student should contact each school's financial aid office to find out the waiver process.

If the student is not in contact with the noncustodial parent, and not able to supply name and address information, the student should leave that parent off of the parent section. The student will be asked to provide a reason that he or she has only supplied information for one parent, and should select the Parent is unknown response. When asked to provide full name and address information for the noncustodial parent, the student can type "Unknown" in any field asking for information not known by the student.

Have further questions about applying for financial aid with divorced or separated parents? We're happy to talk through your personal circumstances with you. Call us at (800) 449-MEFA (6332).

Listen to the Filing Financial Aid Forms with Divorced or Separated Parents podcast episode