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Resources > FAFSA > Filling Out the FAFSA for Divorced Parents—Everything You Should Know

Filling Out the FAFSA for Divorced Parents—Everything You Should Know

Applying for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an essential step toward getting financial aid to pay for college education. However, determining which parent should fill out the FAFSA for divorced parents can be tricky, especially in families with joint custody.

The amount of your student aid largely depends on your parents’ financial support, so you should follow specific rules for reporting parent income to make sure you qualify. When it comes to this aspect of FAFSA, there are various factors to consider—how do you fill out the FAFSA if the parents are separated, share custody 50/50, or eventually get remarried?

In this detailed guide, we’ll explain how to fill out the FAFSA with divorced parents and answer specific scenario questions so you’re fully informed and ready to apply for aid.

How Does the FAFSA Define Divorce?

FAFSA’s definition of divorce isn’t the same as the legal definition of the parent’s marital status. Instead, FAFSA considers parents divorced if they no longer live together. If the parents live together, regardless of their marital status, you’re required to include both parents’ information during the application process.

Your parents are considered to be living together as long as their official residence is the same. Cases of temporary absence aren’t considered separation, including the following reasons:

  • Illness
  • Work
  • Military service
  • Incarceration

Parents who were never married and don’t live together are treated the same as divorced or separated parents who live on their own, meaning that only one parent can fill out the FAFSA.

Which Parent Fills Out the FAFSA in Case of Divorce?

If your parents live separately, the parent who provides greater financial support should file the FAFSA, regardless of your parents’ legal marital status. However, they can also decide to split the financial support, in which case the parent with the greater income must complete the FAFSA.

It’s important that the FAFSA is filled out by the applicant’s legal parent, be it their biological or adoptive parent or the person listed on their birth certificate. Your aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, and other relatives aren’t considered legal parents unless they’ve legally adopted you. 

In case you don’t live with your legal parents and are considered independent by the FAFSA guidelines, it’s not necessary to include their information on the FAFSA. You’re considered independent if you’re married, have children, or are an emancipated minor or an active-duty military member.

Other specific situations when you may not have to include your parents’ information include:

  • Leaving home due to an abusive family environment
  • Being a victim of human trafficking
  • Having an incarcerated parent
  • Being unable to locate your parents
  • Becoming homeless or being at risk of becoming homeless between the ages of 21 and 24

Does Divorce Impact FAFSA Eligibility?

Divorce has no impact on your eligibility for FAFSA. The parent’s marital status isn’t taken into consideration, and neither are the noncustodial parent’s finances. When applying for financial aid, the three main contributing factors are:

  1. Student’s income and assets
  2. Parent’s household size
  3. Parent’s income and assets 

Although the federal government doesn’t consider the noncustodial parent’s assets and income to determine the student’s financial needs, it does consider child support provided to the custodial parent.

However, some private colleges do take the noncustodial parent into consideration as a potential source of support and can ask for a financial aid form from them as well. This doesn’t affect the federal and state aid, only the aid awarded by the school itself.

Who Fills Out the FAFSA if Parents Are Separated but Not Divorced?

In case of separation or divorce, the custodial parent is supposed to fill out the FAFSA. According to the financial student aid rules, this doesn’t have to be the parent who has legal custody, but the one who financially supported you most during the last 12 months and lived with you longer during that time. This 12-month period refers to the period ending on the FAFSA application date.

If you lived with both parents equally long, the one who provided you with greater financial support in the last 12 months is required to fill out the application. This parent is typically the one who claimed you as a dependent on their tax return.

Who Fills Out the FAFSA if the Parents Live Together?

If your parents live together, regardless of whether they’re divorced, separated, or unmarried, they’re treated like they’re married when you’re applying for FAFSA. This means that you must report both parents’ income and assets.

In case one or both parents get remarried after the divorce, and they live with their respective partners, the parent and the stepparent (optional) who provide greater financial support should fill out the FAFSA.

What Happens if Divorced Parents Are Remarried?

According to federal law, if the parent who financially supports you most gets remarried as of the FAFSA filing date, they’re required to report the stepparent’s income and assets when applying for financial aid. The stepparent’s income during the base year must also be reported, even if they weren’t married to the parent back then.

Keep in mind that your stepparent isn’t considered your parent unless they’ve legally adopted you. Instead, they’re identified as a parent spouse contributor on your FAFSA form.

If your stepparent has other children, they’re counted in the household size if:

  1. Your parent and stepparent provided more than 50% of their financial support
  2. The children were younger than 19 years old as of December 31 of the tax year
  3. The children lived with your parent and stepparent for more than half a tax year

You don’t have to provide your stepparents’ information if they’re not legally married to your parents but are just living together. However, any contributions they make to the household, such as rent or utilities, must be included with your parent’s nontaxable income.

What Happens if Multiple Parents Fill Out the FAFSA?

There’s no need for both parents to fill out the FAFSA if they’re divorced or separated and no longer live together. However, if you include both parents’ information on the FAFSA, both sets of financial information will be used when calculating your financial needs. This may result in receiving less financial aid than you’re eligible for, so make sure you only provide the information of the parent you’re supposed to.

What if the Parent Providing Greater Financial Support Dies?

In case the parent who’s been supporting you financially dies, the other parent is obligated to complete the FAFSA. If the deceased parent was married and you’re still living with your stepparent, the obligation still applies to your legal parent. Unless the stepparent adopted you, they’re not considered your parent if your legal parent dies or they get a divorce, so they aren’t legally allowed to complete the FAFSA.

If you’re unable to locate your other parent, the college financial aid administrator can do a dependency override and change your status from dependent to independent. That way, no parent information is required for the FAFSA.

How To Fill Out the FAFSA With Divorced Parents

When it’s time to fill out the FAFSA form, the exact process will depend on the factors discussed above—do your parents still live together, do you have any stepparents, and which parent provides greater financial support?

Once you’ve gone over these factors and determined which parent should complete the FAFSA, you can proceed to fill out the application. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open an account at FAFSA.gov
  2. Gather the necessary documents
  3. Fill in the requested information
  4. Sign the FAFSA form and submit it

Open an FAFSA Account

Start by setting up an account in your name. Create separate FSA IDs for yourself and your parent so you can both e-sign the FAFSA once it’s done. You can obtain the FSA ID from the Department of Education online, and even parents who aren’t U.S. citizens can get one—no Social Security number (SSN) necessary.

Gather the Necessary Documents

When filling out the 2024/25 FAFSA form, you might need the following information and documents:

  • Your parents’ SSNs if you’re a dependent student
  • Tax returns
  • Records of the received child support
  • Documents related to current balances of cash, savings, and checking accounts
  • Net worth of investments, businesses, and farm assets
  • At least one prospective school
  • The date your parents were legally divorced

Fill in the Requested Information

To ensure the form completion process goes smoothly, read all the questions carefully before filling them in. Making mistakes may delay your application and negatively impact the amount of financial aid you can receive. Here’s how to avoid the most common mistakes:

  • Don’t leave blank fields because they can cause miscalculations. Instead, enter “not applicable” or “0” for questions that don’t apply to you
  • Never use commas or decimal points in numeric fields. Instead, round the amount numbers to the nearest one
  • Double-check your SSN and driver’s license number. Enter 000‐00-­0000 if your parents don’t have SSNs
  • Include your full legal name rather than shortened versions or nicknames to avoid confusion
  • Be careful when inserting your income tax paid amount. You can find the exact figure on your income tax return forms from two years prior

Sign the FAFSA Form and Submit It

After you’ve completed the FAFSA form online, you must agree to the terms and conditions of the form, sign it electronically, and submit your section of the FAFSA form. 

However, your form will only be considered complete when all required contributors insert their information, give consent to transfer federal tax information into the form, and sign it. Once all this has been done and the FAFSA form is submitted, it will be considered complete and ready for processing.

Additional Tips When Filling Out the FAFSA

While it’s highly unlikely every single student will get financial aid, there are a few steps you can take to make sure you’re among the lucky ones. Here are some tips for completing the FAFSA form more effectively:

  1. Apply early
  2. Submit your application online
  3. Don’t rush

Apply Early

Applying for FAFSA as soon as possible may boost your chances of getting financial aid. The application due date is typically at the end of the academic year, on June 30. However, in some cases, the deadline can be even in January or February. If you apply later, you risk not getting financial aid because a state or school may run out of funds by the time they get to your application.

Submit Your Application Online

Completing your FAFSA application online is more efficient because online applications are processed faster, and they use skip-­logic to ask only the relevant questions. If you’re applying online, you’ll also have the option to retrieve your IRS data and automatically fill in the form, which can simplify the application process and reduce errors.

Don’t Rush

Take your time filling out the FAFSA form. If you get stuck on a question, you can save it and return to it later. The easily accessible “save key” will ensure all the information you’ve entered is safe and waiting for you the next time you log in. Both students and parents can use this function to access the form from anywhere if they’re completing it from different locations.

Does the FAFSA Require a Credit Check?

Typically, there are no credit checks involved when you’re applying for federal student loans. This means that you don’t have to include any credit information when completing the FAFSA form since this information won’t be checked by the Department of Education. Still, there are two exceptions to this rule:

Type of LoanExplanation
Direct PLUS loansThese are designed for professional or graduate students, and they do require a credit check. As a result, if your or your parent’s credit score doesn’t meet the lender’s standards, you may not be approved for the loan
Private student loansYou may consider private student loans as additional financial aid if federal financial aid and scholarships aren’t enough. Private lenders usually require a credit check, and they may also consider your cosigner’s credit score

Although federal aid doesn’t usually require your credit score information during the application process, you can still benefit from building and maintaining good credit. Having a strong credit score helps you save money in the long run by greatly improving your chances of getting a loan with favorable interest rates and terms.

A great way to build credit early is to rely on a credit building service like the one FreeKick offers. Accessing credit options is quite a challenge for students, but FreeKick provides a simple solution through parent-sponsored credit building, helping you build a strong credit profile starting as early as the age of 13.

FreeKick—Premium Credit Building and ID Protection (Coming Soon)

FreeKick is an FDIC-insured deposit account and subscription service provided by Austin Capital Bank that helps build credit for young adults and minors between the ages of 13 and 25. The service also provides identity protection for the whole family, covering up to two adult parents and six children aged 0 to 25.

Parent-Sponsored Credit Building With FreeKick

An early start in credit building helps you ensure more options for getting financial aid. In fact, you can save more than $200,000 in your lifetime if you establish a strong credit profile from a young age.

FreeKick lets you start building credit from the age of 13 through parent-sponsored credit building. Here’s how to get started: 

  1. Create an Account—With your parents’ help, visit FreeKick.bank and choose a plan that matches your needs by considering the amount of deposit and annual fee tradeoff
  2. Set It and Forget It—Once the account is activated, FreeKick automatically starts building your credit over the next 12-month period through a no-interest credit builder loan, which is repaid using the deposit
  3. Keep Growing—When the first 12 months pass, you can either renew the account and keep building your credit or close it and get a refund of your initial deposit

Keep Your Identity Protected With FreeKick

Data shows that a child’s identity is stolen every 30 seconds, which can be a large obstacle when applying for student aid. Keeping your identity safe as a college student is crucial during the application process as someone can steal your information and use it to apply for FAFSA, which would automatically make your application invalid.

Protecting your identity is important now more than ever since identity theft statistics show that new account fraud—which includes student loan identity theft—has increased by 13% in recent years. This is why FreeKick offers comprehensive security features for protecting adults and minors:

Services for Adult Children and ParentsServices for Minor Children
Credit profile monitoring
SSN monitoring
Dark web monitoring for personal information
Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
Lost wallet protection
Court records monitoring
Change of address monitoring
Non-credit (Payday) loan monitoring
Free FICO® Score monthly
FICO® Score factors
Experian credit report monthly
Credit profile monitoring
SSN monitoring
Dark web monitoring for children’s personal information
Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
Sex offender monitoring—based on sponsor parent’s address

FreeKick Pricing

Regardless of your family budget, FreeKick offers a plan that fits your needs. Both available plans are FDIC-insured up to $250,000. Find more details in the table below:

FDIC-Insured Deposit AmountPlan Fee
$3,000$0 (Free)

Secure your financial future and protect yourself and your family from the risk of identity theft—sign up for FreeKick today.