Here’s a little two question financial aid pop quiz for you:
Q: When a student fills out the FAFSA, and his/her parents are divorced, who are considered the parents?
A: The custodial parent and any step-parent. The non-custodial parent is not considered financially responsible for the student by the federal government, and no information is collected from the non-custodial parent regardless of that parent’s involvement in the child’s life.
Q: When a student fills out CSS PROFILE, and his/her parents are divorced, who are considered the parents?
A: The custodial and non-custodial parent, primarily. Step-parent information may be collected, as well and weighed in the equation. CSS PROFILE desires a fuller picture of the student’s financial situation and that includes fully understanding the financial status of the non-custodial parent.
Both the federal government and CSS PROFILE have established their own individual definition for who is financially responsible for the student, and the definitions are not the same. So, when a divorce is part of the picture, the financial aid process can get very complicated. Because divorces cannot always be easily navigated, CSS PROFILE does allow students to request a waiver for the non-custodial parent information if the parent is not involved in the student’s life, pays no child support, or is unable to be found.
Either way, when dealing with a divorce and financial aid, students and their parents and step-parents should pay particularly close attention to the requirements of each aid application. Misunderstanding what is needed and thus potentially delaying the process may mean that the student misses out on the amount of aid for which he is qualified.