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Articles / Applying to College / Can I Claim My Dad as My Custodial Parent?

Jan. 8, 2012

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. :roll:


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)

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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