College Financial Aid: Who is the Custodial Parent?

 In CSS Profile, FAFSA, Financial Aid Forms

The financial aid process tends to be confusing enough for those completing it for the first time. That confusion can be increased exponentially for families of divorce.

One of the most common questions I receive from families of divorce is, ‘Who is the custodial parent?’

Here’s more info on the impact divorce has on financial aid >>

Who is the custodial parent?

Let’s start with the term itself. The custodial parent is the parent that is responsible for completing the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and other financial aid forms for their child.

While we have a custodial parent, we also have a non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent may still have to provide some information — something discussed more in this article — but, in general, financial aid responsibilities fall on the custodial parent.

So, how do you determine the custodial parent in cases of divorce or separation?

According to, the custodial parent for federal student aid purposes is the parent with whom the prospective student lived the most during the past 12 months. The 12-month period is the 12-month period ending on the FAFSA application date, not the previous calendar year. For example, if the family of an incoming freshman is completing the FAFSA on November 1, 2020, the 12-month period to be considered is November 1, 2019 through November 1, 2020.

While this question most commonly comes up in cases of separation and divorce, biological parents who never married are treated the same as parents who are separated or divorced.

What impact does the custodial parent have on financial aid?

The parent that is identified as the custodial parent will have their financial information used to apply for need-based financial aid.

Who is the custodial parent in cases of split custody?

As a result, in cases of true 50/50 support and living arrangements, it’s in the student’s interest for the custodial parent to be the one that will qualify for more need-based aid. However, families need to remember to factor in money received such as child support and alimony when deciding which parent to use.

Check out our FAFSA Guide >>

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