Financial Aid

When Life Situations Change, How Do You Complete the FAFSA?

Instructions are provided for how to complete the FAFSA if you've experienced a marital status change or a drop in income
Woman using computer to complete the FAFSA

The FAFSA® requests family income information from two years prior. This allows the FAFSA to use the FUTURE Act Direct Data Exchange (FA-DDX), a resource that quickly pulls in tax information and makes completing the FAFSA much simpler. But what if your life situation has changed recently? You'll want to take the right steps to let the financial aid office know.

Here are some "what if" examples and the proper steps to take as you file your FAFSA.

What happens if you were married in the FAFSA tax year, but are now divorced or separated? For divorced or separated couples, the FAFSA asks that only the parent that provides hte student more financial support provide information on the FAFSA. If you're a now separated or divorced custodial parent who filed your taxes jointly with your former spouse in the FAFSA tax year, here's what to do:

  • You'll still need to consent to have the FAFSA pull your tax return data from the IRS. As you filed jointly, the FAFSA will pull the information for both you and your (former) spouse.
  • Contact the financial aid office of every school where the student is applying and explain your situation. Be prepared to submit a copy of your tax return or tax return transcript with an explanation of which income belongs to you. You may also be asked to complete a separate worksheet or form to show the division of income between you and your (former) spouse.

What if your marital status hasn't changed but your family's income has decreased significantly since the FAFSA tax year? This is an important fact to let the financial aid office know. Here's how:

  • Submit a letter to each financial aid office with an explanation of your change in income. Give the reason and timing of your income decrease.
  • Submit any relevant and helpful documentation with your letter, such as a recent paystub or letter from your employer.
  • Be prepared to answer questions from the financial aid office or submit additional information or forms.

Remember, the financial aid office wants to get an accurate picture of your financial situation, so work closely with staff members there to provide what's needed. And if you have any questions at any time, call the office. There will be other families in your situation, so the office will likely have standard protocol for your circumstances. If you have general questions about financial aid, you can also get in touch with us here. Reach at via phone at (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or by email at

Watch the Understanding the FAFSA webinar