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For many students, one of the most confusing parts of the college application process is financial aid. Applying for financial aid can be even more complicated if you have a noncustodial parent as this leads to lots of extra papers and stress. Based on a combination of personal experience and talking to others who have been through the process, here are six problems concerning noncustodial parents (specifically noncustodial waivers)and financial aid along with the solutions to each of them.

Problem 1: “I have no contact with my noncustodial parent and can’t get their information for financial aid forms.”
Solution: If you have not had contact with this noncustodial parent for an extended period of time (think several years), there is a good chance that you won’t have to report their information. If this applies to you, you should look into obtaining a noncustodial waiver for each school that you are applying to that requires the CSS Profile (know that most schools that only require FAFSA do not require your noncustodial parent’s financial information).

Problem 2: “I don’t know how to obtain noncustodial waivers.”
Solution: You can usually find information regarding a specific school’s process of getting a noncustodial waiver by going on the financial aid portion of their website. If this doesn’t work you should try searching “(school name) noncustodial waiver” on a search engine like Google. If you still can’t find the information you can email (or call) the financial aid office and ask them how you can obtain a noncustodial waiver. Know that you will often need supporting documents including letters from third party people (so not related to you), which brings me to the third common problem.

Problem 3: “My family tends to be private about the situation with my noncustodial parent and I don’t have anybody to write my third party letter(s) for noncustodial waivers.”
Solution: There is no way around this third party letter so you will need to find somebody to write (some schools even require two third party letters). Your best bet is to go to somebody from your school (often a school guidance counselor or social worker) who is somewhat familiar with your situation and to further explain what has happened and ask if they are willing to write a letter for you. Other good options could be people like a coach who you have been working with for several years.

Problem 4: “I can’t find a deadline for the noncustodial waiver; I have no idea when I need to submit the waiver by.”
Solution: The truth is most schools don’t have a hard deadline for noncustodial waivers. That being said if you submit the waiver on the late end there is a good chance that your financial aid package will be delayed. It might seem annoying but you should try and submit all of the waivers by the financial aid deadlines for each school you are applying to (usually by February 1). This will ensure that when April comes around you won’t be deciding without knowing your financial aid.

Problem 5: “I submitted my noncustodial waiver over a month ago and still haven’t heard anything; I am getting really worried about the whole situation.”
Solution: Colleges can take a really long time to respond regarding your request for a noncustodial waiver (as in upwards of several months) and notify in a variety of ways (usually by email and/or physical mail). If you are concerned you can call or email financial aid and ask how long it generally takes the school to respond regarding noncustodial waivers. If you are well past that time you can also ask if it is possible to find out the status of your request for a noncustodial waiver. Remember, just because it is taking a while to hear from the school doesn’t mean that you won’t get the waiver.

Problem 6: “My request for a noncustodial waiver was denied, but I genuinely have no contact with my noncustodial parent and don’t know what to do now.”
Solution: This is not an ideal situation but your best bet is to reach out to the school(s). Ask if there is any way to have your request reconsidered and if you can submit additional supporting document (more reason to get an extra third party letter or two). If you haven’t already and the school will let you, also submit a letter that you have written explaining your perspective and the situation with your noncustodial parent.

The process of dealing with financial aid when you have a noncustodial parent can be rather tedious and complex, but don’t worry you will get through it. Be proactive and stay organized; it will make the process so much easier!

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the author

Samantha Linder is a sophomore at Smith College where she is double majoring in neuroscience and art history. Samantha's favorite words include hippocampus, logorrhea, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

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  1. Liana on February 11, 2016

    I think it’s SO horrible how schools treat families that already suffer enough because of the incompetence of one parent. The ridiculous process of getting a waiver puts them through humiliation and pain they DO NOT deserve. If you wanna punish someone, punish the incompetent parent!

  2. Elisa Richard on February 22, 2017

    Yes, agreed — we are now suffering further sleepless nights and PSTD from having to RELIVE the pain of describing the abusive situation that occurred over 16 years of time to a set of unknown individuals who will then have the authority to judge us based on words we were able to conjure up, words that will NEVER genuinely describe the obstacles we have had to overcome and the level of negative influence the abusive parent was allowed to inflict.

  3. Schnitzels on March 21, 2018

    My xhusband is the non custodial parent. After the divorce he was not adhering to the child support agreement and spotty in his regular payments. There was no contributions for any medical, educational or any other expenses. I had to take him to court and get wages garnished. Now there is a 50% add on to regular child support for past support overdue and it is all garnished. My divorce decree shows what the correct amount is. My question is when I report the child support on the federal and private income forms should the 50% add on be included? It is not guaranteed (he is commissioned) and has an end date. Do I need to include?

    Also I am petrified that they will include his income as he will not pay even if he wants to (wouldn’t). He hasn’t filed tax returns since separated and pushing for that so my son can get financial aid. Once he files he will owe a lot and they will garnish for that as well. I make under $50,000 and will be crushed if they force me to pay his portion too.

    He is involved with kids but is a real mess. How can I get help?

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