Financial complications often arise when single parent households try to cover college education costs. The policies in determining financial aid for single parents can be confusing at times, so here is an overview of the process.
Completing the FAFSA
The custodial parent is responsible for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The custodial parent is the parent with whom the student has lived the most during the past twelve months. If the student did not live with one parent more than the other, then the parent who provided the most financial support during the past twelve months should fill out the FAFSA. If the student has lived with each parent the same amount of time and the parents provide the same level of financial assistance, then the parent who claims the student for income tax purposes should fill out the FAFSA. Keep in mind that any child support and/or alimony received from the non-custodial parent must be included on the FAFSA.
Responsibility of the Non-Custodial Parent
The federal government does not consider the income/assets of the non-custodial parent when determining a student's financial need (even though it does consider child support received by the custodial parent). However, many private colleges do take into account the income and assets of the non-custodial parent, even if he/she does not want to contribute to college costs. These colleges require a supplemental financial aid form from the non-custodial parent. The supplemental aid form from the non-custodial parent will affect the awarding of the school's own aid but not federal and state aid.
In special circumstances, some private colleges may waive the requirements for non-custodial parent information. Meeting one or more of the following criteria would not automatically qualify a single parent household for a waiver, but it would cause the college to consider giving a waiver:
The non-custodial parent cannot be located.
The non-custodial parent has not made child support payments recently or consistently.
The divorce or separation took place so long ago that it is unreasonable to expect a contribution from the non-custodial parent.
The non-custodial parent has a history of abuse or neglect with the child or other parent.
Documentation, such as court records, of the above criteria would be required in order to be considered for a waiver of the non-custodial parent information.
College Support Agreements
Parents who are in the process of getting a divorce should prepare a written college support agreement as to lessen complications when the time comes for the student to go to college. This should be in addition to any child support agreements. A college support agreement should indicate how much of the college expenses each parent is responsible to pay, how many semesters of support will be provided, any limits of annual payments, and any restrictions on attending a certain college.
For specific questions about financial aid for single parents, please contact the Financial Aid Office at the school your child is interested in attending. For single parents who need more financial assistance in order to meet college expenses, Federal PLUS Loans and private loans are available.