As any parent of a college age child can tell you, filling out the FAFSA form is an important and frustrating part of sending a child to college.
First, in Minnesota, and unless the parents agree differently in their decree, there is no provision for support of children past their high school graduation date (or date they turn 18, whichever is older). Nevertheless, parent’s and stepparent’s incomes are examined by the folks at FAFSA and by the individual colleges by whom the child was accepted to determine how much and what kind of financial aid is awarded. This latter examination by individual colleges is the latest wrinkle. For example, FAFSA looks only at the custodial parent’s family’s incomes, but colleges can ask for the non custodial parent’s income information as well. For a brief period of time, a custodial designation could actually influence a financial aid award by a college. No longer. While FAFSA can still determine the types of loans available, parents should not expect that while assigning custody to the lower earning parent, they are going to actually cut the out-of-pocket college costs for the child.
I am all for helping children through college, but I think there has to be an agreement and a cap on the amount of help each parent can be required by the terms of the decree to provide. The cap can be a dollar amount, an amount tied to the costs of a state-funded school, and/or a time limited obligation (nobody wants to support a 25 year old ‘perpetual student’, after all). This needs, again, to be a discussion. Not only does putting college funding in a decree impact the children’s and their parents’ lives, but it can impact the lives of new spouses, children, or significant others scarcely contemplated when the Decree was entered.