Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is the first – and biggest – part of applying for financial aid. College costs continue to rise, and the majority of students find that they need financial aid in order to pay for school.

The FAFSA offers the Department of Education and your chosen college a picture of you and your family’s financial need. The federal government sees the primary responsibility for funding your education as yours (and that of your family). If your parents are divorced, however, that can make things seem a bit more complicated. Still, there are steps you can take to make sure you get an accurate picture of your financial need.

Top Five Tips for Filing the FAFSA With Divorced Parents

These tips can help you stay on top of the FAFSA requirements even if you have divorced parents.

1. Fill Out the Form as Soon as You Possibly Can

The FAFSA for a given academic year—which begins on July 1—can be filled out as early as October of the previous calendar year. That means the FAFSA for the 2019-2020 school year is available in October 2018. It’s in your best interest to fill yours out as soon as possible after the form opens. Not only is financial aid awarded on first-come, first-served basis, but it’ll also give you plenty of time to work out any additional documentation or error corrections you may encounter.

2. Talk to Both of Your Parents About Their Financial Situation

You’ll need to sit down with each of your parents—either together or separately—and talk about what is required of them during the financial aid process. The parent who provided you the most financial support in the previous tax year is the one who should fill out the FAFSA; this usually ends up being the custodial parent or the one who claimed you on their taxes last year, but it isn’t always.

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3. Consider Which Parent to Report As the Custodial Guardian

Once you’ve established which parent is the custodial guardian for FAFSA purposes, you’ll need to consider whether you need to change which parent is in that role. If your parents are divorced and separated, you should report the parent you've lived with the most over the past 12 months as your custodial guardian on the FAFSA. If you have spent equal time with both parents, then report the guardian who has contributed the most financial support over the past 12 months. If they are divorced and still live together, then you are able to report both guardians on the FAFSA.

4. Find Out the Relevant Financial Details of Your Parents’ Divorce

Finances can be an uncomfortable subject, and even more so when discussing financials pertaining to your parents’ divorce. Unfortunately, you’ll need to dig into those details in order to apply for financial aid. Explaining why you need the information, and how it can help you, might help to get the ball rolling.

5. Understand That Recent Divorces Are Often More Complicated

Divorces are highly emotionally charged; there is often a sense of loss, sadness, or even anger involved. It may also take several years to iron out all of the financial entanglements. If your parents’ divorce occurred within the last two or three years, expect that it may be more complicated to figure out all of the finances involved and where they stand as you fill out your FAFSA.


When it comes to your financial aid, there’s no way around it—having divorced parents can complicate matters. If you take the time to talk openly with your parents, understand their situation, and also understand what the FAFSA requires, however, you can alleviate much of the discomfort. Most importantly, you can get the financial aid you need for school.