The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is required for most college students to be considered for most types of federally provided financial aid. Filling out the form can be challenging and further complicated if you are a child of divorce.

The FAFSA form typically requires you to provide financial details from both parents. However, there are conditions under which you may be exempt from providing details from both parents. The U.S. Department of Education has established guidelines for completing the FAFSA with divorced parents, and understanding those requirements is essential to receiving financial aid.

Do both divorced parents fill out the FAFSA?

If you’re a dependent student, the FAFSA will ask for your parents’ financial information and your family size to determine how much aid you’re eligible for. But whether it considers the income of both divorced parents depends on their living situation.

  • If your parents are divorced or separated but still living together, you must include both of your parents’ information on the application.
  • If your parents are divorced or separated but not living together, you’ll include only one parent. This parent should be either the one you lived with more during the past 12 months. If you lived with both equally, the one who provided the most financial support in the past 12 months.

How do you fill out the FAFSA with divorced parents?

If your parents are divorced or separated, you must get the necessary information from them to complete the FAFSA. Remember, you will need information from both parents if they still live together, even if they are considered divorced or separated by law.

If your parents do not live together, the parent who provides greater financial support is the one who will be required to provide their financial information on the FAFSA. If your parents have 50/50 custody and split financial support equally, then the U.S. Department of Education recommends that the parent with the greater income complete the FAFSA form.

Who counts as a parent on the FAFSA?

Only your legal parents count as parents for the FAFSA — not grandparents, foster parents or legal guardians. If you don’t live with either parent, you still need to report their information. If you lived with one parent for the majority of the past 12 months and that parent remarried, you’ll report your stepparent’s information on the FAFSA as well.

What documents do you need to fill out the FAFSA?

If you’re a dependent filling out the FAFSA, you’ll need to collect financial information from one or both of your parents, depending on their living situation. Having this information on hand in advance will speed up the process of filling out the form.

Here’s what you need to know about your parent or parents before you apply:

  • Their Social Security number(s).
  • Their federal tax information.
  • Records of untaxed information, like child support.
  • Information on their investments, cash, business income and liquid assets.
  • The date of their legal separation.

How is financial aid determined?

Federal financial aid is awarded based on your economic need. To come up with this figure, the Department of Education uses the following formula:

Estimated cost of attendance – expected family contribution = financial need

Your expected family contribution (EFC) is how much your parents are expected to contribute to our higher education costs, and it’s calculated using the financial information you provide on the FAFSA.

If you have divorced parents who don’t live together, you’ll report the information for only one of those parents, and your EFC will be based on only that parent’s finances. Because of this, you may get more financial aid if you live with the parent who has a lower income. To maximize your aid eligibility, you can use an EFC calculator to get an idea of how much your family will be expected to contribute in each scenario.

The bottom line

Determining what parental information you need to include on the FAFSA when you are the child of a divorce can be tricky. If your parents still live together, you need financial information from both. If they are separated and do not share a household, then you will need the financial information of the parent whom you live with or provides the most financial support. Your parents’ financial information will be used to determine the amount of financial support you will be eligible for through federal student loan programs.