For students with divorced parents, the custodial parent is the one the parent they lived with the for the previous 12 months. This isn’t necessarily the parent who has legal custody or who provides the most financial support. If your lived with both parents for the same amount of time, then the custodial parent is the parent who provided the most financial support during the past 12 months.
The FAFSA does not require information from the non-custodial parent. However, the FAFSA will assess the assets and income of the custodial parent’s current spouse the same as the custodial parent. There is no consideration for the length of the marriage or prenuptial agreements.
The fact that the custodial parent is defined by who the student lived with for the past 12 months provides an opportunity in some cases. This is 12 months from the date you file the FAFSA, not the previous year. If one parent has substantially fewer asset and income than the other, then the student could live with that parent to improve her ability to qualify for need-based aid.
This definition applies only the FAFSA. Colleges that use the CSS/PROFILE may require the non-custodial parent to report his or her income or assets as part of the institutions financial aid methodology. You can see a list of schools that require students to submit the Noncustodial PROFILE at the CollegeBoard. Again, if including the non-custodial parents information could significantly affect a student’s financial aid award, families might want only to consider schools that don’t require the form.