Will Separated Dad's Income Be Counted at FinAid Time?

Question: My ex and I have been separated for 9 years but have never gotten divorced. My ex pays child support, but I have full legal and physical custody. My income is $40,000 and by the time our son starts college, I expect my ex to be retired, relying on a substantial pension and 401 (k). Will his income and assets be included on the FAFSA? Or only mine?

When it comes to money matters, “The Dean" is on thin ice. So I forwarded your question to my finaid guru (Ann C. Playe, former associate director of admission and financial aid at Smith College). I knew that Ann would have encountered other families in similar straits to yours. (In fact, I often insist that financial aid officers are a lot like doctors. That is, after a while, there's no condition they haven't seen. ;) )

Here's what Ann said:

If they are separated and not divorced, FAFSA-only schools will still look at both parents. But if they have actual separation documentation, the financial aid officer may exercise professional judgment and allow expenses for the maintenance of two households.

In other words, you can expect your ex-husband's assets and retirement earnings to be evaluated as part of your son's needs-assessment process, but you should also write a detailed letter to all of his target colleges and explain the actual circumstances.

Note also that if your son's list includes any of the many collegesthat use the CSS Profile form (or their own similar form), they will consider your husband's assets and income anyway, even if you had gotten officially divorced.

(posted 6/2/2012)