Many families that I work with find themselves not fitting into traditional boxes or roles when it comes to parent/family dynamics and the financial aid process. I want to address a few different kinds of family dynamics so if you find that your family falls into one of these categories, you will be able to move forward to apply for financial aid without fear.

  1. Divorced & Single Parents
    1. Most colleges will only require one parent’s information to be submitted for the financial aid process, called the ‘Primary Parent’.
    1. To help determine which parent will provide primary information, the FAFSA considers the parent that provides more than 50% of the student’s overall support.
      1. If support is shared equally, use the parent that the student lives with more than 50% of the time.
      1. If both monetary support and residence are shared equally, you may consider which parent would be more beneficial to use as the primary parent for financial aid purposes.
        1. Factors could include: parent’s state of residence, parent’s support towards tuition expenses, and which parent should have primary contact with the college.
    1. Keep in mind that some colleges do also require the ‘Secondary Parent’ information, if applicable. Colleges may also choose to ask for proof of death/divorce, or a third-party statement of “no contact” with the secondary parent if applicable.
  • Separated Parents
    • Choosing the Primary Parent follows the same guidelines as listed above for divorced- and single- parent households.
    • A formal decree of separation is NOT required by the Department of Education for processing or verifying FAFSA information.
      • However, most colleges may require proof of separate households.
  • Re-married/Step-parents/Legal Guardians
    • There are so many types of families, and so many paths that people can find lead them to gain the title “Parent”.
    • The FAFSA and most financial aid forms use terms such as “Parent 1/Parent 2”, or have several categories like Mother/Father/Step-parent/Guardian, to be more inclusive of all family types.
      • Re-married parents will include their spouse’s information for financial aid forms, rather than the other biological parent.
      • Adoptive parents and legal guardians will file their information just like biological parents would, considering you have legal custody of the student.
    • If you do provide the main support for the student needing financial aid, but do not have legal custody of them, you may want to contact the college directly before submitting any forms.
      • Homeless students and emancipated minors can actually file the FAFSA on their own, but additional support documentation will likely be required (from the state and/or guardians) later on in the process.
  • Other Supported Family Members
    • Not only are there many types of parents, but there are many types of families as well. If there are other people that you support, that are not your biological children, these “family members” can also be included on your student’s financial aid forms.
      • Grandparents or aunts/uncles/cousins that live in your house
      • Refugee, Homeless, or emancipated minor children that live in your house, or are supported by you and use your home as their primary residence
      • Family members living in their own residence (potentially overseas), but receive their main form of support from you
    • The main criteria for including a person in your household, is that you provide more than 50% of their support/living expenses in a year.
    • It’s not always required, but keep in mind that any college could ask for proof of your payments to support these additional persons.

If you struggle with understanding the financial aid process, and how your family can get through it, we are here to help! Feel free to reach out to us – we love simplifying the process for families and taking the burden of all that paperwork off your shoulders.

Until Next Time,

Hope Santos, College Dream Builder Financial Aid DIrector

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