Nov 25, 2020 RISLA

Filing FAFSA When Divorced or Special Circumstances

Understanding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may seem like a challenge at first. Once you add the complexity of a special circumstance or divorce, completing the FAFSA may feel like a downright headache.

Although your situation may seem like receiving financial aid is impossible, don't let it stop you from putting your best foot forward. You are not the only person experiencing this state of affairs and most likely you won't be the last. Here are a  few examples of special circumstances and how to handle them when completing the FAFSA.  

Divorced Parents (or Parents Who Never Married)

If you are a student of divorced parents, you may have a lot of questions.  Who is supposed to fill out the FAFSA? What needs to be reported?  First, it is the responsibility of the custodial parent to fill out the FAFSA. The custodial parent will be the person with whom you the student have lived with the most during the past twelve months.  

Even if this parent does not have legal custody, for FAFSA purposes, the parent who provided the student with the most financial support is deemed the custodial parent. Although the assets and income of the non-custodial parent won't be considered when determining the financial need, child support received by the custodial parent will be considered. If the parents pay the same amount of financial support for the child, the parent with the greater income will be used for the FAFSA.

Some private colleges do consider the noncustodial parent as a source of support, and they collect this information through another financial aid form. In this case, the institution's financial aid will be affected but not the federal and state aid.

Step-parents who are married to the custodial parent will also be required to report income and assets on the FAFSA.  

Special Circumstances

Emancipated Minors

If you have a court order stating that you are an emancipated minor, you will fill out the FAFSA as an independent student. Remember, the court order must still be in effect and must be located in your state of legal residence. If you do not meet these criteria, you are not considered an independent student and must complete the FAFSA as a dependent student. 

Foster Care

If you are in foster care, you will not need to report your foster parents' income on the FAFSA. As a foster child, you are considered independent and thus, a family of one unless you have children of your own. You will not need to report the income or household size of your foster family nor will you need their signatures. 


Students who are homeless and are not living under the custody of a parent or guardian are considered independent students if they have received a determination that they are unaccompanied homeless youth. If you do not have a determination but meet this criterion, contact the homeless liaison at your high school for assistance. You will need the determination to prove that you were an unaccompanied homeless youth for your independent status as it pertains to the FAFSA.

If you need help filling out the FAFSA, visit to schedule a free appointment soon.

Published by RISLA November 25, 2020