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Articles / Paying for College / Can Dad With Lower Income Serve as Primary Parent on FAFSA?

Can Dad With Lower Income Serve as Primary Parent on FAFSA?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Jan. 3, 2011

Question: My daughter is about to fill out the FAFSA. Her mother and I are divorced. Mom's yearly income is higher than mine. Mom has been claiming her as a dependent on her tax returns (while I've been claiming our son). Will red flags be raised if my daughter lists me as the primary provider for financial aid determination?

When parents are divorced, the custodial parent must be listed on the FAFSA. If you and your ex-wife share custody of your daughter, the FAFSA should be completed by the parent with whom the child spends the most time. When the incomes are skewed ... as in your case ... then it makes sense for your daughter to indicate that she spends at least 51% of her time with you, regardless of who claims her as a dependent. (Of course, if you don't live reasonably close to where your daughter goes to high school, then she can't realistically make this claim.)


Colleges that require only the FAFSA form will consider just the income of the custodial parent (and of that parent's spouse—the step-parent, if there is one) when making financial-aid determinations. But, if your daughter is applying to colleges that require theCSS Profile form, it won't matter who is listed as the custodial parent since financial aid officers will consider the income of both parents.

Good luck to you as you wade into these shark-filled waters!

(posted 1/3/2011)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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