How to Complete the FAFSA With Divorced Parents

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Mark Kantrowitz

By Mark Kantrowitz

February 23, 2024

If you’re a dependent student, you should complete the FAFSA for the parent who provided more financial support to you. This is a new rule effective with the 2024-2025 FAFSA. In prior years the parent you lived with more, or the custodial parent, would file the FAFSA.

It’s important to note that only one parent is responsible for completing the FAFSA if your parents are separated, divorced, or were never married.

How Does the FAFSA Define Divorce?

The FAFSA only considers your parents to be divorced or separated if they’re not living together. If your parents are divorced or separated but they’re still living together, then you need to include both parents’ information on the form.

If your parents were never married and don’t live together, the same rules apply as in the case of divorce or separation, i.e., only one parent files the FAFSA.

An informal separation can count as a separation if your parents do not live together. Your parents are considered to be living together if they live in the same house, even if they live on different floors. Temporary absences from work, school, illness, military service, or incarceration do not count as a separation.

Marital status is based on the date the FAFSA is filed.

Which Parent Completes the FAFSA When They are Divorced?

When your legal parents are divorced, separated, or never married, and do not live together, the parent who provides greater financial support to you is the one who will file the FAFSA.

If the parents split the financial support equally, then guidance from the U.S. Department of Education indicates that the parent with the greater income is responsible for completing the FAFSA.

Who Is Defined as a Parent?

The FAFSA should be completed by a student’s legal parent. Legal parents may include the student’s biological and adoptive parents. Legal parents can also include a parent who is listed as a parent on the student’s birth certificate, even if they are not a biological or adoptive parent.

Legal parents do not include grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, foster parents, legal guardians, widowed stepparents, or other relatives unless they have legally adopted the student.

If you don’t live with either of your legal parents, you don’t need to include their information on the FAFSA.

What Happens if Your Parent has Remarried?

If the parent who provides greater financial support has remarried as of the date the FAFSA is filed, the stepparent’s income and asset information must also be reported on the FAFSA. This is a matter of federal law, so prenuptial agreements are ignored.

The statutory citation for this requirement is 20 USC 1087oo(f)(3).

The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance that says that there are no exceptions to this rule. The stepparent’s income during the base year (the prior-prior year) must be reported even if the filing parent and stepparent weren’t married at the time.

The stepparent’s other children, if any, are counted in household size if the stepparent and custodial parent provided more than half of their financial support, the children were under age 19 as of December 31 of the tax year, and if those children lived with them for more than half of the tax year. These children are also counted in the number of children in college if they are enrolled in college at least half-time.

Generally, you only need to include your stepparent’s information if they are legally married to your custodial parent. If they are living together but not legally married, you don’t need to report their income and assets on the FAFSA, though any contributions they make to rent and utilities must be shown along with your parent’s nontaxable income.

However, if your parent and their partner are considered common law spouses, you will need to include them on the application. In some states, partners are officially considered common law spouses after they’ve lived together for a certain period of time. Check the laws in your state, and make sure to report your stepparent if they’re considered to be your parent’s common-law spouse.

What Happens If Multiple Parents Fill Out the FAFSA? 

If your parents are divorced or separated and do not live together, only one parent needs to fill out the FAFSA as explained above. If you fill out the FAFSA with both your parents’ information even if you don’t need to, the FAFSA will use both sets of financial information to calculate financial need. This means that you may receive less aid than you’re eligible for.

Who Fills Out the FAFSA If Both Parents Live Together?

If a student’s parents are divorced, separated, or never married, but live together, they are treated as though they are married on the FAFSA.

This means that both parents are counted in household size and the income and assets of both parents must be reported.

The FAFSA depends more on the parent’s relationship with the student than the parents’ relationship with each other.

If the parents are divorced and one or both of them have remarried, and all of them live together, the parent and stepparent (if applicable) who provide more financial support to the student are responsible for completing the FAFSA.

Completing the FAFSA if Your Parents Are Divorced

How you complete the FAFSA will depend on a few different factors, such as whether your parents still live together, and which parent provides more financial support to you as explained the previous sections.

Once you’ve determined which parent should complete the FAFSA, you can proceed to fill out the application using the information of the parent who provided greater financial support. If this parent is married, also include your stepparent’s details.

By filing the FAFSA, applicants and their parents are consenting to have the IRS transfer federal tax information to the FAFSA. For this reason, all applicants and their parents must obtain an FSA ID from the Department of Education (this can be done online). Parents who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents will be able to get an FSA ID even if they do not have a social security number.

Documents Needed to Fill Out FAFSA

To complete the FAFSA you’ll need the following information for yourself, the parent who is filing, and your stepparent if applicable:

  • Social Security numbers
  • Your A-number if you are not a U.S. citizen
  • Your federal tax records and those of your filing parent (and stepparent)
  • Documents relating to any untaxed income
  • Documents relating to your and your filing parent’s cash savings, business income, investments, liquid assets, and business and farm assets
  • The date your parents were legally separated

For more information on how to complete your FAFSA correctly, take a look at our posts on preparing to apply for financial aid, common FAFSA errors, and FAFSA deadlines you should know.

What if the Parent who Provides Greater Financial Support Dies?

In this case, your other parent is responsible for completing the FAFSA, even if the you are still living with the stepparent.

A stepparent is considered a parent for federal student aid purposes only for as long as the stepparent is married to the parent, unless the stepparent has legally adopted the student. When the parent dies, the stepparent is no longer considered a parent for federal student aid purposes. For example, a stepparent who has not adopted the student cannot borrow a Federal Parent PLUS loan for the student after the parent dies.

If the other parent cannot be located or has not had any significant contact with the student or provided any financial support to the student, the college financial aid administrator might do a dependency override. A dependency override changes the student’s dependency status from dependent to independent. Parent information is not required for an independent student.

The stepparent can provide cash support to help the student pay for college. Under new FAFSA rules, this support will not be reported as untaxed income to the student on the student’s FAFSA.

The Bottom Line

It can be tricky to know exactly how to complete the FAFSA with divorced parents, as a few different factors come into play, such as whether your parents still live together, which parent provides greater financial support, and whether that parent has remarried. 

However, just remember that if your parents are divorced, separated, or were never married, you should complete the FAFSA with only the income and asset information of one parent, as well as that of their spouse, if they have one. It’s important that you familiarize yourself with the rules to ensure you receive an accurate assessment and get access to the financial aid you’re entitled to.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can the parents choose which parent files the FAFSA?

No. The FAFSA rules for divorced parents are very specific about which parent should complete the FAFSA, so they can’t just choose.

Do you have to report both parents’ income on your FAFSA?

When filling out the FAFSA for divorced parents, you only need to report the income of both your parents if they still live together. If they are divorced or separated and no longer living in the same household, you should only use the information of the parent who provides greater financial support to you. However, you will also need to report the income of this parent’s spouse, if they have remarried as of the FAFSA filing date.

A good place to start:

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