Can I Claim My Dad as My Custodial Parent?

Question: I am wondering who I can claim as my “custodial parent” on my FAFSA application. Living as a middle class family, we want to receive as much aid as possible to help pay for college. I currently reside with my mother and stepfather. My parents were divorced when I was young. My mother and stepfather’s income combined is significantly greater than that of my father. I know that if I were to go off of his income I would receive much more aid as opposed to using my mother’s. So my question is, is it possible to claim my father as my custodial parent rather than my mother? As I said I do live with her and she claims me on tax returns. However, it would be easy to say I live with my father 51% of the time in order to claim him as my custodial parent and receive more federal aid.

If it would be easy to say that you live 51% of the time with your dad, then it makes sense to do so from a financial point of view (though not necessarily from a good-karma point of view 😉 ). “The Dean” is assuming that your dad’s home is within a reasonable commuting distance from your high school. But if he resides in Atlanta and you go to school in Detroit, it might raise some eyebrows in financial aid offices to say that you live with him. 🙄

It doesn’t matter who claims you on taxes. If your parents share custody, for college financial aid purposes you are free to report that you live 51% of the time with either one. BUT … keep in mind that this approach should help you get better financial aid from institutions that use only the FAFSA form. If any of the colleges on your list use the CSS Profile form (or, in some cases, their own forms that are similar to the Profile), then your aid award will be computed after colleges consider the income and assets from both your mother and your father’s households (and thus your stepfather’s earnings will factor into the equation). For a list of colleges that use the Profile, see https://profileonline.collegeboard.com/prf/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet.srv (Again, remember that there are additional colleges not listed here that have their own forms that also seek information from both parents.)

Good luck to you as you navigate the money maze.

(posted 1/8/2012)