So, in good faith, you’ve started the financial aid application process, you’ve gathered paperwork, gotten your pencils sharpened (or more probably, your fingers ready for some furious typing) and you come upon the first challenge to your logic. Who is your parent? Now of course, by “you” I am referring to you, the student. You may think it is fairly easy and straightforward to define who your parents are. Boy, would you be wrong.
In all cases, the main financial aid applications (namely the FAFSA and CSS Financial Aid Profile) should be completed by the custodial family. If your birth parents are married to each other, this is pretty easy: Parent 1 is mom and Parent 2 is dad. If your parents are of the same gender and married, same thing; Parents 1 and 2 are easy to define.
If your birth parents are divorced, separated, or were never married, then you only fill out information about the parent(s) with whom you live (and, here is a tricky part, his or her new spouse, your “stepparent”). When it asks for mom’s information, you will leave it blank if you live only with your dad, and conversely if it asks for dad’s information, you should leave it blank if you only live with your mom. If your parent is remarried, you should put the stepparent’s information under the appropriate heading).
Confused yet? No? Well, “lay on, MacDuff”…
Well, what if your parents are divorced and you lived with both of them equally during the last twelve months (in other words, the custody arrangement is something like, stay at mom’s from Sunday – Tuesday and every other Saturday, and with dad the rest of the time)? Then you would complete the form based on the parent who provides most of your financial support during the last year.
Does this absolve your other parent from completing any information? NO, A SOLID AND RESOUNDING NO. Colleges may request (and many colleges who use the CSS Profile do request) a Non-custodial parent Profile for students who do not live with both of their birth parents. This form should be completed by the non-custodial parent online. Once you (the student) registers for the CSS Profile and indicate that your birth parents are not married, you will be sent an email with instructions, a temporary password, and a link which you should forward to your non-custodial parent for him or her to complete.
To be clear, most schools who use the FAFSA alone won’t care about the information from your non-custodial parent, but some of the private colleges will. If you are curious whether your college wants your non-custodial parent’s information or not you can take a look at their financial aid website or take a look at the list of colleges who use the CSS Profile (if they want information from your non-custodial parent, there will be a “Yes” under the column entitled “CSS Profile – Noncustodial Parents”).
Does it end yet? Well, sort of…
What about situations where you really don’t live with either parent, or if you are otherwise independent? Well looks like that is a topic for our next blog post!