It is the season for college acceptance letters, school visits and tough decisions for seniors across the Houston metro. One of the important considerations is the aid package offered by a college or university and who will pay for a child's tuition.
For divorced parents, questions may range from who completes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to whether child support or the income of a stepparent is included? We will cover some basics in this post, but advance planning at the time of the divorce is critical.
Federal custodial parent definition
Federal law requires the custodial parent complete the form. Texas doesn't use this same terminology. But parents who have roughly equal parenting schedules may need to count nights to determine whom the child lived with the most in the 12 months preceding the FAFSA application date.
If the time that a child lived with you and your ex-spouse was equal, then you must determine which parent provided more support. This is a broad category that includes food, clothing, housing, insurance costs and child support paid on the behalf of a child. It could mean that the higher income parent would complete the FAFSA.
What income do you need to list on the FAFSA
For a remarried mother or father, you will usually need to list money received from a stepparent in support of a child. The complex rules also require that any money provided above and beyond court-ordered child support is attributed as untaxed income to the child on the FAFSA.
Structure of child support agreements
Whether children are still in daycare or in high school, college needs to be a consideration in divorce negotiations. Will one parent continue to provide health insurance coverage for a college-aged child? Who will contribute to 529 plan savings? How much will each parent pay toward tuition and expenses? It may seem like the distant future, but time passes quickly and failing to anticipate rising college costs could limit a child's options.
Parents are in the best position to reach a plan that works for their unique circumstances. Involving professionals who have helped similarly-situated families is one way to avoid mistakes or omissions that could lead to future conflict.