Will divorce mean more college aid?

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Q. I’m a sophomore in college and I received very little financial aid. My parents are getting divorced. Will that mean I can qualify for more aid? What do I do to find out?
— Need money help

A. We’re sorry to hear that your parents are getting divorced, but just on the money side? This could be a benefit from the financial aid perspective.

The question is timing and whether, under the new circumstances, your existing need significantly changes, said David Slater, co-founder of College Benefits Research Group (CBRG) in Roseland.

Slater said each college has its own way of satisfying a student’s need, so that makes answering your question far less general.

“Some are historically more generous than others,” Slater said. “To complicate this equation, colleges use dollars to incentivize students to matriculate in freshman year, but this motivation may be lessened once the student has already enrolled.”

So even if your situation has changed and you have more “need,” your college may not improve your aid package because it doesn’t feel that it has to.

Slater outlines some of the factors that would be in play.

First, you are a rising sophomore, which means that the FAFSA will be based upon your parent’s 2016 tax return, Slater said.

“During 2016, your parents filed a joint return and were married. The question is then whether or not they were separated and living apart,” Slater said. “While they were together, you do not have any change in your circumstance.”

If your parents are only getting divorced in 2017, then until it is official, you may not receive any adjustment to your need. Once they have legally separated, however, there is a chance, Slater said.

“The next question would be — after the divorce — whether the school you are currently attending counts towards your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) only the custodial parent or if they include the income and assets of the non-custodial parent as well,” he said. “All of this is relevant to the need calculation — cost of attendance minus EFC — as well as whether you have a sibling who might now be following you into college this year.”

Assuming that your school only counts the custodial parent’s income and assets and assuming that your custodial parent shows significantly less income on their own, there is a chance for a proactive appeal to your college, Slater said.

“What is important is that you contact your financial aid office at school to inquire about their particular policies and financial aid procedures,” he said. “Be sure and be ready to discuss the specific details in your change in financial circumstances. Your argument would be more persuasive if you could explain how the divorce has negatively impacted your family financially.”

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NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.