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More Information About College Aid and Stepparents Continues To Roll In



1. Hi. I read with interest the letter from the stepfather who had to put his income on his stepchild's financial aid forms. I am curious if anyone writes who got around this.

Here is my story. My husband died when our children were 8 and 10. Now one is in college and the other will go next year. I have been seriously involved with someone for 4 years now. I hope to marry at some point but one thing that will hold me back while they are in school is that I knew I would have to put his income down on the forms. I have always felt this is unfair since he does not support them financially. To make matters worse, social security stops at age 18 or upon graduation from high school, which has kept us going. So if I was married, my children would probably not get any aid, on top of losing a big source of their support. I never thought there was a way around this -- I just resigned not to remarry until they are both out of school since even if he and I were married, I would not expect him to pay for their college nor would he have the money if he wanted to.

So I feel for this stepfather who is already doing the right thing by taking care of his own child's education. Please update us through your column if you get any different feedback.

Thanks for a great column that helps us single parents!

2. I realize your column is about "flying solo", but the college aid rule you spoke is no less fair than when a couple remains married and their child must apply for aid. If a couple is separated ONLY the parent with whom the child spends the majority of time with has to report income. For example if my husband and I divorced only MY income would be used to determine the aid that my daughter would receive. Even though my husband is still my

daughter's father he would not have to be included in determining aid. He could make a huge income, or assets but my daughter could still receive large amounts of aid based on my income. Children of parents that stay married must include both parents income. Therefore this law puts the burden on couples that remarry or stay married.

I have known families who have separated, so their child could go to college. Sad, but a reality when college costs have grown so large. The thought has crossed my mind. My child will come out of college in debt because her parents stayed married.

My only thought on this is that most laws are written by man that have large salaries and assets. In this case divorced men can get out of paying their fair share of their child's education.

Please don't use my name in your column.

3. Boy, did your article "College-aid rules raise many questions describe my own

frustration of the past several years in regards to "combined" families

putting children through college.

Nine years ago, my husband and I were married. I am a teacher and he is an engineer. My husband's salary is approximately twice mine. We each had three children - his were 18, 15, and 13 years old, mine were 10, 7 and 4. We have been putting 2 of my stepchildren through college and for several years were paying child support. My ex-husband is an alcoholic who does not pay child support regularly and I have taken him to court in the past. Before my marriage to my current husband, I was unable to save for college - we were existing on "survival." After my marriage, I still paid for everything for my own children (my insistence) and my husband handled his financial obligations willingly for his own children -including child support and college.

My oldest daughter was an honor student in high school, skipped a grade in elementary school, is a gifted musician, and received numerous academic awards. Imagine my surprise as we approached "college time" when I discovered that FAFSA now requires info on the step-parent's income and it is included in figuring out financial aid. Also, all the Ivy League and top universities require financial forms to be filled out on the custodial parent, non-custodial parent, and step-parent to figure out their financial assistance.

My ex-husband refused to fill out forms and he is not legally required to do so. My husband was upset because he felt my ex-husband should be responsible and his income should not be considered. My daughter was suddenly faced with the prospect of not attending a top university although she had the grades and requirements to be accepted.

I had my lawyer write a letter to the universities my daughter was applying to explaining my divorce with my ex-husband and reasons as to why his financial forms were not being submitted. I attached a letter explaining our family's financial responsibilities and that I pay for my children's expenses and schooling. XXXX refused to even process my daughter's application without my ex-husband's financial form - and my begging and arguing could not bend their policy. My daughter received 4 rejections from major universities - 2 of which she should have been accepted (we know students who were accepted the same year with less qualifications as my daughter.) She was accepted to 2

XXXXX schools easily. YYYYY University is the only major private university who accepted her and took into account my income only.

My daughter is finishing her 2nd year at YYYYY. Every year, when we fill out financial forms, I have to get another lawyer's statement, write my letter explaining our financial situation, and still include my husband's income. Each year, my daughter's YYYYY aid drops. My daughter would not be at YYYYY if it weren't for an uncle with money and no children who has been assisting her with costs. However, I am grateful to YYYYY for the assistance they have given us.

There is something wrong with a system that discourages step-families. We would not have had these college financial difficulties if we had decided to simply live together and not marry. I cannot help but wonder about all those single mothers with college bound children who cannot obtain the financial info from the ex.

Thank you for letting me "blow of steam." Your article really pushed a button........ My next daughter will start applying to colleges in a year and a half. I can't wait.........

4. I'm writing in reference to an article I read over the Easter holiday, about financial assistance for children living in step-families. My situation is that I have 3 children, ages 17, 13, and 12.

I am remarried to a man who has a very good income, and I receive approx. $300.00 per month in child support (occasionally) It is my understanding that when my kids are ready for college, if they seek financial aide, we have to include my husbands income on the report, and not their fathers! This is absurd!!!! I would like any further info you have gathered on the subject, and am willing to start taking steps to get this changed! Please let me know of some resources and any ideas of who to contact regarding these rules and regulations!

Look forward to hearing from you! Maybe by the time my 12 year old is ready, we will have made a difference !

5. FROM an Associate Director of Financial Aid in New York State: In response to your questions on step-parent income being included on the financial aid application - "College Aid Rules Raise Many Questions" - let me offer an explanation.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and supplemental forms such as the College Scholarship Service Profile collect "household income".

The household may consist of the two biological parents, a single parent, a biological mom and stepfather or a biological dad and stepmother. In single parent households and families with stepparents all parents in the household must include their income along with any child support coming into the household from a non-custodial parent. Child support payments being made out of the household income are excluded in the financial aid

formula. The wide variety of "families" these days dictate that the only way to distribute aid is to deal consistently with families. Thus, collect all "household income".

If we were not consistent what would be the alternative? In a stepparent situation at what point would we ignore the stepparents income? The family in which the stepparent has their own biological children? Is that fair to the stepparent who has no biological children?

(Keep in mind that the stepparent with their own biological children not living with the stepparent does NOT include their income on their biological child's federal aid application). It is ALWAYS the custodial parent that lists household income on the applicants application.

Would it be fair to exclude the stepparents income when the stepparent is the sole breadwinner for the household and the biological parent is the homemaker with no income? Certainly the homemaker is contributing to the household. How would we value the homemakers contribution for the purposes of the financial aid application?

What do we do with families with yours, mine and ours all living in the same household? Use one parent's income for yours, another parent's income for mine and both for ours. You see how complicated the process could get.

Do we ask for stepparent income in situations where there is no pro-nuptial agreement? Is that fair to the stepparent who has no pre-nuptial agreement? Should the "test" be how long the stepparent and biological parent have been married - count income if married more than 10 years, 15 years, what would be fair?

Should we collect information from both biological parents on the federal application. What do we do with the student who was abandoned by a biological parent. Does that student not qualify for aid because they cannot obtain the income information needed for the application?

As you can see the only way to be fair, or at least not unfair, is to be consistent. A stepparent with obligations can always outline their circumstances to the financial aid professional at the college but the federal system can only operate by being as "fair" as possible and collect all "household income".

1998, Flying Solo®

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