Financial aid application process for single, separated or divorced parents

The rules and requirements for single, separated or divorced parents are different for submitting financial aid applications. The information below clarifies the rules for both FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the CSS Profile.

Rules for FAFSA

Which parent completes the FAFSA?

If the student’s parents are 1. Never married, 2. Separated or 3. Divorced, only the custodial parent submits information on the FAFSA, unless the parents still live in the same household. In this case of living under the same roof, both parents will be required to submit their information regardless of marital status.

Who is the custodial parent?

FAFSA has its own criteria to determine who is the custodial parent, which are independent of your legal custodial arrangement or which parent claims the student on his/her taxes.

The criteria for determining who is the custodial parent are as follows:

  1. The parent with whom the student has lived the most days for the 365 days prior to the application submission date.
  2. If the student has lived equal time with both parents for that time period, then it’s the parent who provides greater financial support to the student.
  3. If both parents provide equal financial support to the student, then it’s the parent with the higher income.

The custodial parent needs to create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID to complete and electronically sign the student’s FAFSA. Watch this short video tutorial on how to create an FSA ID.

What if the custodial parent is remarried?

A custodial parent who is remarried reports income and asset information for both herself/himself and their spouse. This is true even if the new spouse has not adopted the student. FAFSA requires the entire household’s financial information for financial aid consideration.

Rules for CSS Profile

Which parent completes the CSS Profile?

Most CSS Profile colleges will require both biological parents to submit their information, even if the parents are 1. Never married, 2. Separated, or 3. Divorced. Both the custodial parent and the noncustodial parent submit their information separately and securely into a single student application that is received by the college. Information submitted by each biological parent is never shared with the other parent.

Who is the custodial parent?

CSS Profile follows the same criteria as FAFSA to determine who is the custodial parent. The custodial parent submits her/his information in the primary application submitted by the student. This application is completed using the student’s College Board login, so no additional login needs to be created by the custodial parent.

How does the noncustodial parent submit her/his information?

The noncustodial parent creates a College Board login to submit her/his information. The parent links the information that s/he is submitting by using the CSS Profile Financial Aid ID aka “CBFinAid ID” associated with the student’s primary application. This ensures the information is combined into one application for the college. No access to this information is granted to either the student or non-custodial parent.

What if either parent is remarried?

If either parent is remarried, the remarried parent reports financial information for both herself/himself and her/his spouse. This is true even if the new spouse has not adopted the student. The CSS Profile requires the entire household’s financial information.

What if the noncustodial parent cannot or will not submit the application?

CSS Profile colleges do not consider a parent’s unwillingness to participate and submit her/his information as sufficient reason to not collect this information. Non-submission by either parent prevents a college from processing the student’s financial aid application.

Colleges do provide a formal waiver process for a student to petition for the noncustodial parent information to be omitted or waived. The waiver must be submitted separately to each college’s financial aid office, and each college uses its own evaluation process and discretion in granting a waiver.

The standard waiver request form clearly states circumstances that will and will not be considered for the waiver, often requiring “no contact” with the noncustodial parent. However, each college can create its own criteria for which circumstances to consider. Colleges may also require documentation to support your waiver.

Excerpt from CSS Profile Waiver Request for the Noncustodial Parent

You can review the entire standard waiver request form using the link below. Remember, to check with your specific college’s financial aid office, as they may have created their own institutional waiver request form.

Resource center for divorced or separated parents on the CSS Profile website

The CSS Profile Info for Divorced or Separated Parents resource center includes several resources, including:

How to create your FSA ID

Your Federal Student Aid or FSA ID is required to submit your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and access your Federal Student Aid account. You’ll use this same FSA ID to reapply for financial aid every year and manage all of your federal aid, like Pell Grants and Direct Federal Student Loans.

Watch this quick, 5-minute video to create your FSA ID.

2023-24 FAFSA EFC Estimator

The FAFSA EFC Estimator gives you an estimate of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for colleges that use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to award need-based financial aid for the 2023-24 school year. This interactive tool is for a dependent student eligible to submit the FAFSA.

I created the FAFSA EFC Estimator so that in 3 steps you can understand if you may qualify for need-based financial aid. The easy-to-use inputs also allow you to run scenarios for changes in income or assets. Importantly, it will help you see how each area of your finances – income versus assets – impacts your EFC.

For a more detailed FAFSA EFC, or to calculate the EFC as determined by the CSS Profile, you can use College Board’s EFC Calculator.

*If Parent Taxed Income or AGI is less than $50,000, the EFC Estimator assumes the student qualifies for the Simplified Needs Test, which would exclude any assets you report on the FAFSA from the EFC calculation. To qualify for the Simplified Needs Test, you must meet additional criteria beyond an income below $50,000. You can review those criteria here.