Tips for Handling College Expenses During Divorce

Tips for Handling College Expenses During Divorce

By: M. Scott Gordon

It is important for divorced parents to plan a conversation about college expenses, according to a recent article from U.S. News & World Report. Thinking carefully about how financial aid will be handled for your child can have a significant impact on the total costs you and your child will need to pay for college. While many parents “just throw up their hands and wait to see what kind of [financial] aid package comes back,” according to the article, it is essential to be much more strategic when it comes to your child’s college education and its high costs.

If you have questions about handling college expenses during and after divorce, an experienced Chicago college expense family lawyer can help. In the meantime, we have some tips for dealing with your child’s financial aid application amidst your divorce.

  • Learn More About the Definitions of “Parent” and “Custody” Under Financial Aid Applications

Most parents do not think about how the terms “parent” and “custody” are defined under the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To be sure, most parents assume that the FAFSA is using these definitions in the same manner as Illinois law. However, there is a big distinction. According to the article, the FAFSA is defining the custodial parent not in legal terms, but rather in tax terms.

In other words, the FAFSA does not want to determine who the law says is the child’s custodial parent. Instead, it wants to know “which parent the student lived with the most in the past 365 days.” In the event that your child lived equally with both parents, the FAFSA has a test to determine “which household provided more financial support in the past year,” but the test is relatively ambiguous. In short, when the FAFSA asks you to name the custodial parent, it wants to know which parent’s household provided the most financial support for the student and thus whose financial status to take into account when determining a financial aid package.

  • Do Not Over-Report Financial Information

When it is time for your child to apply for financial aid for college, do not make the mistake of over-sharing financial information. According to the article, many divorced families make the “costly mistake” of providing income information for step-parents and noncustodial parents. Generally speaking, providing more financial information than is required can result in a lower financial aid package for the student. As the article explains, by over-reporting income, “a family that could have gotten aid from a school may be getting nothing now because it looks like they have more money available than they do.”

Instead, only report the income for the custodial parent, since that is typically all that the financial aid application forms will request.

  • Do Your Research On Financial Aid Applications

Different schools use different methods for calculating financial aid applications. If you are the custodial parent and you make substantially less money than your ex-spouse, it is important to do your research into schools that require only the custodial parent’s financial information when determining how much aid your child will receive.

Do you have questions about managing college expenses after divorce? A dedicated college expense family lawyer in Chicago can assist you today. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC for more information about our services.