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How college can factor into a divorce (or marriage) decision

If you are considering divorce and have a child due to enroll in college in the next couple of years, it may be best to move forward with the divorce plans sooner rather than later. On the other hand, if you are thinking about marrying (or remarrying), then it could make financial sense to wait.

Here is a look at why.

Divorce and the FAFSA

Many children with divorced parents have an advantage when it comes to college and financial aid. For one thing, parents can plan strategically so that the child lists as "custodial parent" the parent in the less favorable financial position. For the FAFSA, the custodial parent is simply the parent the child stayed with most during the past year. In the rare event of an exact 50/50 split, "custodial" is the parent who contributes the most financial support. The custodial parent is not necessarily the parent(s) who has legal and/or physical custody.

In any case, if you see divorce in your short-term future, you could drastically reduce what you, your spouse and your child pay for your child's college education if you decide to move forward soon.

Remarriage and the FAFSA

On the other hand, if you have been single for awhile but are considering getting married, it is worth noting the ways in which you being married could end up reducing your child's financial aid package. Basically, if you are the custodial parent, your spouse's income gets considered too. Suppose you make $45,000, but your future spouse makes $350,000. That is a big jump in household income, but factors such as additional children, if your potential spouse has any, can help offset the jump.

Even if you are the noncustodial parent, remarriage can have an effect at some colleges. Some schools ask your child to fill out their application for financial aid in addition to the FAFSA, and that application is likely to consider both parents as well as any stepparents.

The bottom line is that, while you would ideally do marriage and divorce on your terms, college is expensive. It can be worth your while to think through some options.

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