WHY ARE STEPPARENTS FINANCES RELEVANT TO STEPCHILD'S COLLEGE EDUCATION?
Question: Four years ago, my wife and I married – each of us for the second time – and began running into problems with each other’s children’s college education’s that neither of us anticipated. Each of us has two children by our prior marriages. One of my children graduated from college five years ago, and the other is now in her second year. Under my divorce agreement with my wife, I agreed to pay for her collegiate education, which I am doing. My second wife has two children, one age 15 and other who will graduate from high school this May and plans to attend college next fall. My current wife does not work outside the home where she and her children live with me.
When she divorced, her agreement says that each child will apply for aid and whatever is not paid by aid will be paid by her former spouse. Here’s the problem: When her older child applied for aid, he came home with forms that required financial information not only about my wife – his mother, but also me, his stepfather – even though I have no legal obligation to support him.
When I called the schools (he is applying to both private and state-supported schools), I was told that if the child lives with me, I must give my income and asset information even though I have no obligation to support the child. When I asked why they did not take this information from my wife and the child’s father who owe the obligation, I did not get a satisfactory answer. My question: Why should I be required to provide my income and asset information concerning a child to whom I have no legal obligation of support?
Answer: After receiving inquiries from you and others with similar concerns, we contacted private and state-supported institutions of higher learning, but are not satisfied with the answers. If the child is seeking federal loans and lives with a stepparent, the stepparent must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application and give information about his or her income and assets -- even though there is no obligation to provide support for the child. When we asked why, we were told that family income is considered when aid decisions are made -- which, to us is not an answer.
And when it came to scholarships and grants from the school itself, we were told that because these types of aid are usually needs-based, the stepparent's financial information was required on the College Scholarship Service (CSS) form.
Although no one we spoke with was sure of the rationale for requiring the stepparent' s income and assets, we were told that if the stepparent has his or her own financial obligations (such as his own kid in college), this is considered in deciding financial aid.
This practice seems to be an invasion of the stepparent's right to privacy, unfair to the child, and an undeserved benefit to the parent who is charged with paying for the portion of the collegiate education which is not paid for by grants and loans. If any of our readers can give us insight into this problem, please email us at