If you are a divorced or separated parent sending your child to college, the FAFSA can raise some common questions and complications for your family during the filing process.

Having experienced a divorce personally, I can attest that an already confusing process (financial aid) is only made more complicated for divorced parents.

Here are a few rules of thumb, guidelines, and advice for divorced and separated parents when filing the FAFSA for your student.

What is considered “divorced or separated” on the FAFSA?

Legally divorced parents and parents living in separate households are treated the same. A legal separation isn’t necessary to be considered separated by FAFSA, but it is required the parents reside in individual households. Separated parents who live together are treated as married by the FAFSA. Biological parents who were never married are treated as divorced parents.

Who fills out their information on the FAFSA?

Only one parent needs to report their information for the prior year when divorced or separated. The parent that files the FAFSA is the parent with whom the child has spent the most time with over the last 12 months, or the custodial parent. If the time is equal, the parent who provided the most financial support for the student over the last year will file the FAFSA.

Remarried Parents: If the custodial parent, either via time spent or financial support provided, is remarried at the time of filing the FAFSA, that income must also be reported.

Things to be aware of:

– It is very important for divorced and separated parents to not use the IRS data retrieval tool on the online FAFSA form.

Using the tool will transfer over both parent’s tax returns if a joint tax return was filed during that year. Once you have selected to use the IRS retrieval, you cannot go in and delete the information the tool auto-fills into the form. Making this mistake can cost your student thousands of dollars in financial aid lost.

– If you were married during your student’s base year, but are now separated, you do not need to file your joint income tax return from that year.

– If your family filed the FAFSA before you were divorced or separated, contact the financial aid offices directly at the colleges your student applied to. They may reevaluate your financial aid and award your student more money.

The FAFSA is no easy feat, but we’re here to help. For more information and advice, check out the rest of our FAFSA series on our blog.