What Constitutes a “Divorced or Separated Family” for College Financial Aid?

Colleges don’t see a difference between a divorced or separated household.  If you file tax returns separately AND are separated from your partner, colleges consider you a two household family.

How Does a Two Household Family File Financial Aid Forms?

It depends on the college!  There is never a straightforward answer.  It’s important to look at colleges like a business. All businesses operate a bit differently- just like all colleges.  The best way to understand how the colleges you are interested in treat two household families is to reach out to the college financial aid department, explain your family situation, and ask for guidance.

2023-2024 Financial Aid Forms

Federal Methodology (FAFSA)

Schools that use the FAFSA, or the federal methodology for financial aid eligibility only require the custodial parent to fill out the FAFSA. This means only ONE household files the FAFSA in a two household family situation. The household that files is the parent who the student lives with, or lives with more.

If the custodial parent is remarried, then the custodial parent and the step-parent’s combined information is entered on the FAFSA to determine financial aid eligibility.

Institutional Methodology (CSS Profile)

The CSS Profile is used to determine a student’s eligibility for institutional aid by about 300 colleges and universities. The CSS Profile is used  to give out grants, scholarships, and loans directly by the colleges.

These schools also use the FAFSA which determines a student’s eligibility for federal aid.  As a result, you may be eligible for aid from both the federal pot of money with the FAFSA and the institutional pot of money with the CSS Profile.

The CSS Profile takes a more in depth look at your family’s financial situation and requires more information.  Click here to see if your college or university requires the CSS profile.

Most schools that require the CSS profile will require both the custodial and non-custodial households to complete an application.  In the link above you can see if the non-custodial parent is required to fill out the CSS Profile for your school. If both households are required to complete it you will complete separate applications and no one will see each other’s information.

2024-2025 Financial Aid Forms

For the 2024-2025 school year, the FAFSA will be changing!  This will affect how you fill out your FAFSA in the fall of 2023. If you are a divorced or separated family the FAFSA will no longer be the custodial parent’s responsibility.

The FAFSA will be filed by the parent that provides the most financial support. It won’t matter who the student lives with anymore, but instead who financially supports the student more. This may not be the custodial parent.

This may make things a bit more complicated and complex for divorced or separated families, but remember- we’re here to help! We’ll offer support, guidance, webinars, and more blog posts about the upcoming FAFSA changes as we get closer to next fall.

Financial Aid Tips

Pay attention to the specific financial aid requirements for each school you are applying to. Every school may require something different for financial aid eligibility. It is YOUR responsibility to keep them straight, submit the correct forms, and meet the deadlines!

If you are a divorced or separated family there are a few more nuances to how you file for financial aid, but it’s not impossible!  If you have any questions, please ask!