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Articles / Applying to College / How Does Divorce+Remarriage Affect Financial Aid?

How Does Divorce+Remarriage Affect Financial Aid?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Aug. 6, 2010

Question: How is financial aid determined when the parents are divorced and both are remarried?

When both parents are remarried, the colleges that use only the FAFSA form will make their financial aid determinations based on the income and assets of just the custodial parent and his/her spouse. (And I'm talking about the stepparent here, not the ex, when I say "spouse.") Some parents--and, especially, stepparents--are none too thrilled to learn this, especially if the re-marriage is fairly new and the stepparent has already put his or her own kids through college and thus assumed that tuition bills were a done deal.

If custody is shared, then financial aid officials at FAFSA-only colleges will make their aid determination based on where the student claims to spend more time. (When custody is shared equally, a savvy family may want to decide which household is the poorer of the two and then proclaim that the kid lives with them six months and one day per year.)

At Institutional Methodology schools (the ones that require the CSS Profile form as well as the FAFSA), the situation is a bit more complex because policies can vary. According to my financial aid guru, Ann C. Playe (former associate director of admission and financial aid at Smith college), some schools will "put the original family back together" when determining income and assets, but other schools will "consider the custodial parent and step parent, if they have more money." Ann also notes that, "If it is a really old divorce, the school might not bother tracking down the non-custodial parent at all but will go with the custodial and step."

When it comes to family composition (and decomposition ;-)) seasoned college admission and financial aid officials have seen every possible combination and permutation. So if there is any situation--however anomalous or embarrassing--that you feel should be explained, don't hesitate to write a letter to the target colleges. Some schools may weigh your comments heavily and others not at all, but it is often worthwhile to ask for special consideration when you feel it may be warranted.

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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