Although federal college financial aid amounted to $90 billion in 2004-2005, colleges provided $24 billion of their own money, and their treatment of stepparent income and non custodial income varies significantly. Some consider only the resources of biological or adoptive parents, some consider stepparent income only in the custodial household, and some collect income information from as many as four parents, according to The New York Times, Education Life, July 30, 2006.
Sad to say, neither divorced parent in Kentucky has a legal duty to provide any support to a college student. In crafting settlement agreements, we sometimes take into account the federal financial aid formula which bases need on the household where the child lives most of the time, but even then the income of a stepparent coming into that home may be considered. It is almost always more important, however, to develop the parenting plan for a child on more important considerations. On the other hand, it does not seem fair to the child to base aid on the income of a biological parent who has no further relationship with a child, particularly the income of an abusive parent. Yet, the College Board is recommending colleges uniformly consider income of only biological and adoptive parents. That may be appropriate in states where parents have a legal duty to provide support during colleges, and may provide a reason for state legislatures in those other states to make a moral obligation to help a child through college a legal duty.
"Of course, many loving stepparents and noncustodial parents want to pitch in. But if their support is voluntary, Mark Kantrowitz, president of the Web site FinAid.org, recommends that they hold off. “The college will take this at face value in reducing institutional aid,” he says. “It is generally a good idea to wait until after the student graduates to help out — e.g., by helping pay off the student loans.” He offers two other strategies (extreme, he says, and problematic): live with the poorer parent, or if love can wait, delay remarriage."