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FAFSA question: changing custodial parent

owliceowlice Posts: 3,225Registered User Senior Member
ExH and I share custody and expenses; we should share the paperwork, too. :D Since I'm better organized and ready for this, S will file FAFSA for next year with me as custodial parent. Next year, exH will be better prepared and ready to take his turn.

We are unlikely to qualify for any needs-based aid, but are filing anyway because we'd like spawn to take the unsubsidized Stafford loans as part of his contribution to his college expenses.

Just want some reassurance that it's okay for exH and me to trade off as custodial parents; that's okay, yes?
Post edited by owlice on

Replies to: FAFSA question: changing custodial parent

  • owliceowlice Posts: 3,225Registered User Senior Member
    Bumping this up; this is one busy forum!!
  • ChedvaChedva Posts: 18,842Super Moderator Senior Member
    No, it's not OK. "Custodial parent" has a very specific meaning. It is the parent with whom the student lives most of the year (more than 182.5 days). If the physical custody is really split absolutely evenly, it is the parent who contributes more financial support to the student, even if that amount "more" is $1.
    If your parents are separated or divorced, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The custodial parent for federal student aid purposes is the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months. (The twelve month period is the twelve month period ending on the FAFSA application date, not the previous calendar year.) Note that this is not necessarily the same as the parent who has legal custody. If you did not live with one parent more than the other, the parent who provided you with the most financial support during the past twelve months should fill out the FAFSA. This is probably the parent who claimed you as a dependent on their tax return. If you have not received any support from either parent during the past 12 months, use the most recent calendar year for which you received some support from a parent. These rules are based on section 475(f)(1) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 USC 1087oo(f)(1)).

    Biological parents who never married are treated the same as parents who are divorced.

    Note, however, that any child support and/or alimony received from the non-custodial parent must be included on the FAFSA.

    Please note that the discussion given above applies even if the parents each have equal 50% custody. The term "custodial parent" is not synonymous with custody. Usually the parent with whom the student lived the most during the past 12 months is sufficient, since there are an odd number of days in the year. However, in some cases a tie-breaker is needed, such as when the divorce was recent or when there are an even number of days in the year (e.g., a leap year). In such circumstances it is based on whichever parent provided more support. If that is not definitive, then the financial aid administrator at the college will make the decision, and this will usually be based on whichever parent has the greater income. (Some colleges will follow the logic in a multiple support agreement, but they are under no obligation to do so.)
    FinAid | Answering Your Questions | Divorce and Financial Aid
  • owliceowlice Posts: 3,225Registered User Senior Member
    Chedva, thanks.

    My question is really this: if one parent is the custodial parent for the first year of college, must that parent be the custodial parent for all the college years, regardless of changes in who supplies more money, more time, etc.? From what you post, it appears that a change in circumstances would indeed make it okay to change the custodial parent from year to year.

    We share things evenly, and it would get down to the "$1 more" determination if it came to that. For last year, I'd probably win the "contributed more" contest if we're getting into counting pennies; for this year, exH will likely win it, so next year, he probably needs to be the one filing FAFSA if the custodial parent can change from one to the other. (It'll take him that long to get the necessary paperwork organized anyway...) Looks as though that's the case; thanks!

    I just wanted to make sure that this does not follow the "once this, then for the duration" rule that some things involved in college money matters follow.
  • TrinSFTrinSF Posts: 1,482Registered User Senior Member
    It's not "once this, then the duration", but changing back and forth could cause the school to take a close, scrutinizing look at the finances and situation. You really need to be careful to make sure that it's not just close, but that you *are* the custodial parent for this year.
  • hmom5hmom5 Posts: 10,882- Senior Member
    This is an interesting question. Can a family just change custodial parent to always have the kid with the lowest wage earner and the college have to accept that? Technically, it would seem to be a good FA strategy.
  • cmbmomcmbmom Posts: 718Registered User Member
    This question came up at an info session with a college fin aid officer I attended a couple of years ago. He said that if everything is truly equal (and that it rarely is) pick one and stick with it. His opinion was that going back and forth really will raise questions that most people would rather not deal with.
  • owliceowlice Posts: 3,225Registered User Senior Member
    cmbmom, my ex will be contributing more money for college than I will be; unless we start counting hours, we're unlikely to come up with a clear winner for where spawn spends the most time. So next year, I should think that we'd best go with the parent who provided the most support, if college tuition/R&B counts as "support" (and I suspect it does).

    I'll likely be the one doing most if not all of the catching and ferrying to/from school, packing, organizing, and dealing with all the details of the kid going off to college, but actual time spent in the kid's presence (absent the car rides to/from school) will still be an even split. Expenditure of cash will not be, however, by thousands of dollars.

    We're not going to qualify for any Federal grants or anything; the best spawn'll get are the unsubsidized Staffords, which we do want him to take. If it weren't for that, we wouldn't bother filing for financial aid at all.
  • VderonVderon Posts: 881Registered User Junior Member
    We changed the custodial parent going into D's sophmore year of college because Ex really was contributing more to D's support at that time than I was, and we had joint physical custody. It did not set off any alarms (we never heard from anyone in financial aid) , and D actually got a small need based grant in junior and senior year.

    My feeling is that the truth always wins. If you are not doing anything shady, it will all be fine.
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