The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the only way to be considered for many types of financial aid, but it can be a complex form even under the best of circumstances. If your parents are divorced, it can be hard to know where to start, since the form relies heavily on your family’s finances to determine your aid. However, the U.S. Department of Education has established guidelines for a number of family circumstances.

Do both divorced parents fill out the FAFSA?

If you’re a dependent student, the FAFSA will ask for your parents’ financial information, as well as 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’ll need to 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 or, if you lived with both equally, the one who provided the most financial support in the past 12 months.

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. However, 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.

Documents you’ll 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 all of 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.