Divorced or absent fathers are let off the hook in paying for their kids’ college

by Grace

The federal government lets most divorced or absent fathers off the hook in paying for college expenses.

Among the “five questions that trip parents up most of all”, Forbes includes one with an answer that seems particularly counterintuitive and even unfair to many families.

2) If my parents are divorced, which parent’s income and assets do I report on the FAFSA and CSS Profile?

For students whose parents are divorced, separated, or never married, the custodial parent’s income and asset information must be reported on the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE. The “custodial parent” is defined as the parent with whom the student lived with most during the previous year.  It does matter which parent claims the student as an income tax exemption.  If the student lived with each parent an equal amount of time, then the parent who provided the most support to the student must provide his/her information on the FAFSA and PROFILE.  If the custodial parent is remarried, the step-parent’s information must also be reported.

Parents and student should also be aware that colleges and universities may request information from the non-custodial parent to determine eligibility for institutionally-funded forms of financial aid.  If a college requires information from the non-custodial parent, this process will be explained in the financial aid application procedures.  Colleges that use the PROFILE typically collect non-custodial parent information via the CSS Noncustodial PROFILE Application. Other colleges may collect non-custodial parent information via an institutional application.

Several potential inequities arise from this treatment.

  • Shouldn’t non-custodial parents bear some responsibility for their children’s college costs?
  • Is it fair to make the custodial step-parent put his step-children’s college financial needs ahead of his other children’s needs?
  • Isn’t it too easy to arrange for strategic sleepovers that would enable families to put the lower-income parent on the financial aid form to qualify for more aid?

Related:  Boost your chances for college financial aid with these FAFSA tips (Cost of College)

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5 Comments to “Divorced or absent fathers are let off the hook in paying for their kids’ college”

  1. Back when I was in college, they did require noncustodial parents to provide information, and to contribute. This was a huge problem for many kids. One of my high school friends was unable to go to the school she wanted because her father refused to contribute. I suspect it happened so often that they had to change the policy.

    I also recall that this was a huge complaint for the men’s rights groups that sprang up in the 90’s – they didn’t think a noncustodial father should have to pay for college. Maybe they applied pressure?

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  2. It’s a hard situation for kids with deadbeat parents, but only those kids with parents who still live in the home are penalized under the current system. I don’t know the history of how this evolved, but I wouldn’t doubt that it happened as you suggest.

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  3. The problem, though, is that there is no way to force the noncustodial parent to contribute, so only the kid suffers. Often, the type of parent who won’t contribute to college is the same type who has a long history of not paying child support, and who may not be in the picture at all. Sometimes, the parent can’t even be found.

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  4. There is really no way to force the custodial parent to pay for college either.

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  5. Absolutely, but it is usually more of a cooperative decision.

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