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What to do when parents are divorced, and in situations with step-parents, foster care, etc.

Kerry Traylor, Founder of College Strategy Experts, explains how your family circumstances can affect your financial aid award.

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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Devin Sampson
    What about adopted?
    (3 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user stpatrick749
    Wait, I'm confused. Is it better to have the parent that makes more or less money fill out the form(s)?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user alexiswoloszyk9
    What if one of my parents are deceased and I live with my sister?
    (2 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Yael
      I think that situation would fall under the same guidelines as a legal guardian (she mentions grandparents/foster parents in the video, for example). With that in mind, I would say that you would classify as an independent and your sister wouldn't have to file, but I could be wrong.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user phyllis barker
    What if parents will not sign forms for financial aid
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user phyllis barker
    What if parents won't sign form?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user ffadkl01
    what about if your parents aren't divorced but separated
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user gola burton
    Parents are divorced. They share joint custody. Live equal time with both parents. They share financial responsibility 50/50. both are remarried. Can I use the one with the least income?
    (2 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Kamakshi Kaushik
    What about the international parents who are separated
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user nightfuryinator
    what if I have an adoptive father and biological father and my biological father remarried, if I apply to a school that require both a FAFSA and CSS profile would both of my fathers have to fill out the CSS profile?
    (2 votes)
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    • female robot amelia style avatar for user Johanna
      FAFSA provides these guidelines on their website, if it helps:

      Question 1: Are your parents married to each other?

      If yes, then report information for both parents on the FAFSA form.

      If no, then answer question 2.

      Question 2: Do your parents live together?

      If yes, then report information for both parents on the FAFSA form, even if they were never married, are divorced, or are separated.

      If no, then answer question 3.

      Question 3: Did you live with one parent more than the other over the past 12 months?

      If yes, then report information on the FAFSA form for the parent you lived with more. Also, if this parent remarried, you will need to report information for your stepparent on the FAFSA form.

      If no, then report information on the FAFSA form for the parent who provided more financial support over the past 12 months or in the last year you received support. Also, if this parent remarried, you will need to report information for your stepparent on the FAFSA form.

      Note: Dependent students are required to report parent information on the FAFSA form. A parent means your legal (biological or adoptive) parent or stepparent, or a person that the state has determined to be your legal parent.

      Try searching “CSS Info for Divorced or Separated Parents“ to get their page. :)
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Avishek Ghimire
    What does someone do when they live with their grandparent all years but their parents do not look for them?or does not help applying to colleges and financial aid?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

- If you are dependent and you are not living in a traditional two-parent home where both parents are married, it can be very confusing to figure out which parent, or which parent's household should fill out the financial aid forms, even though which parent fills it out can have a major impact on your college costs. So if your parents are divorced or separated, the parent with whom you have lived the majority of time over the last 12 months is the parent who should fill out the financial aid forms and report their income and asset information. This can lead to some inequities, unfortunately, particularly in cases where one parent earns a lot more money than another parent. Some families want the parent who makes the least amount of money to file the financial aid forms because they know that that means they'll get the most financial aid from the colleges and universities. However, the rule is that if your parents have joint custody of you, the parent who has provided the majority of your financial support over the last 12 months should be the one who files the financial aid forms, whether or not they make more or less money than the other parent. Some schools that use or require the CSS profile will require both parents to fill out the financial aid forms, whether or not they are divorced or separated. They use something in addition to the profile itself called the non-custodial profile, which basically just means that they are requiring the information from the other parent as well. So let's say your parents are divorced or separated and you live the majority of the time with your mother and she makes about $60,000 a year in adjusted gross income, and your father makes half a million dollars in adjusted gross income. At a FAFSA-only school, they will only see your mother's income and asset information, but at a school like Duke University or Carlton College, which requires the CSS profile and the non-custodial profile they will require that both your mother and father report their income and asset information. So this means at that CSS profile school that uses the non-custodial profile, your college costs are gonna be a lot higher than at the FAFSA-only schools because they're looking at both parents' information, including the parent who is a lot wealthier. If you are living the majority of time, or receiving the majority of your financial support from a parent who has remarried, your step-parent's information must also be included on the financial aid forms. And any pre-nup arrangement that your parent and step-parent have does not affect this rule. So let's say your dad married a wealthy heiress and before they got married, she had your dad fill out a pre-nup arrangement that said she didn't have to pay for your college education. Nonetheless, regardless of that pre-nup, the financial aid rules say that her income and assets, as well as your father's income and assets, must be reported on the financial aid forms, even if your dad didn't make much money, they are gonna look at the millions and millions of dollars that your wealthy heiress step-mom has and they're not going to give you any financial aid, even though your dad is paying for all of your college expenses. If you are adopted, your adoptive parents are considered the same thing as your biological parents for purposes of financial aid. So they must fill out the FAFSA and CSS profile and report their income and assets. However, foster parents are not considered parents for purposes of financial aid, so they do not have to report their income and asset information at all, and do not have to fill out the FAFSA and CSS profile. If you're living with a legal guardian, your legal guardian does not have to fill out the financial aid forms. Also if you're living with a grandparent, they also do not have to fill out the financial aid forms, unless they have legally adopted you, or a court of law requires them to support you financially. So basically, if you live with foster parents, legal guardians, or grandparents, you are considered independent, and that means no parents have to fill out the financial aid forms. You are the only one who will fill that FAFSA or CSS profile out. So you only need to report your own income and assets on these financial aid forms. So a lot of times I get asked whether a student can be considered independent so that colleges and universities are not looking at parent income and asset information in making their decisions about financial aid. There are actually very specific criteria for when you can be considered an independent student. First of all, if you are at least 24 years of age you can be considered independent. Also if you are a graduate or professional student who is pursuing a course of study beyond a bachelor's degree, you are independent. Also if you are married, you are independent, or if you have a child or legal dependent of your own. Likewise, you might be a veteran of the armed forces or one of the service academies, as long as you were honorably discharged and were on active duty. Another reason you might be independent is if you are a ward of the court, or if you are an orphan, that is both of your biological parents are deceased. And last but not least, for various reasons, you might be considered an emancipated minor by the state in which you live. So those are all various reasons for why you might be able to be considered an independent, rather than a dependent student, for purposes of financial aid.