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April 29, 2009

Doubting divorce

by Lucas Alvarado-Farrar, Online Features Editor
"Wait," I said to a college admissions representative over the phone. "So you are saying I'm going to pay double!?" I was met with a haughty yes and a circular explanation. "But I told you, my mother and I are the only ones who are paying for college," I said. "I thought I made that abundantly clear." Again, I was greeted with a snooty response explaining how there were rules and policies for these sorts of things and that they were doing the best they could. I sat shocked at the irrational insensitivty.

While a large portion of students whose parents live together do not have to worry about the intricacies of financial aid in a separated world, a growing percentage of Americans struggle with a system that discriminates against those already disadvantaged. Growing up without a mother or a father directly involved in your life has widely recognized psychological effects on children. And with over one million children's parents getting divorced in the U.S. every year, the collegiate struggle described above is far from unique to me.

At the beginning of the college search, much like everyone else, I had no idea what I was diving into. One year later, with the picture slowly focusing, I have evaluated my experience and found some glaring problems with divorce discrimination in this age of political change and activism.

At many schools, in order to receive financial aid you must submit both parents' tax information regardless of divorce, a policy that makes perfect sense. While some families are divorced, the non-custodial parent still plays a large, at least, financial role in their child's life. However, for many children who are victim to a less pleasant divorce, this is not the case. Here, the waters turn dark and murky.

To get a non-custodial parent's information waived, there is a complex form appropriately titled the Non-Custodial Parent Waiver. Not only does this form require that the custodial parent denounce their former mate (an easier job for some than others), but it requires the child to enumerate and relive the rocky, or sometimes terrifying, relationship they have had with their absentee dad or mom. On a legal level this makes sense - in order to prove something, you must offer evidence - but the financial aid department is a far cry from a court room.

Proving this fact is harder than just writing a letter. A complete waiver includes psychological evaluation, numerous phone calls to financial aid officers that do not comprehend divorce, even more difficult phone calls to the absent parent and the radical realization that you are essentially disowning your mother or father. Going through that trauma only gets you as far as a review.

The real problem with this whole system is not the forms, the hours on the phone, or even the difficult conservations, because with everything in life, you have to fight for what is right. The real problem is the fundamental disconnect between families who have gone through divorce and those who have not. In the collegiate system, the financial aid department treats these drastically difficulty realities identically.

Since the 1950s, society has tossed out the absurdity of "Duck and Cover" and the disgusting practices of Jim Crow, it is now time for the United States to recognize the end of the picture perfect nuclear family. The financial aid departments across the country need to understand that just because a parent is biologically related it does not mean they are an intricate part of your life.

Many schools defend their policy through insinuating that they are keeping people from "cheating" the system, but the notion that parents will go around getting divorced just to "reap the benefits" of reduced college tuition is absurd. Colleges should consider divorced parents as different entities and evaluate the non-custodial parent relationship with delicacy, sensitivity and tact. A more careful assessment of the non-custodial parent's finances should always come before forcing children to relive pain.

In the end one school accepted the waiver and another rejected it despite the same information, a contradiction that calls to question whether some schools take the hardships of divorce more seriously or only consider the impact on their pocketbooks. But regardless of either school's decision, the scars of this ordeal will live with me forever.



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  • TNH on April 29, 2009 at 9:35 PM
    That's so ridiculous. I am so sorry you had to go through that.
  • hmm on April 30, 2009 at 7:26 PM
    I bet some parents would get a temporary divorce to save on college tuition. It is not absurd. College costs a lot of money.
    • Dave on April 30, 2009 at 10:30 PM
      I'm pretty sure the financial/legal cost of divorce is often too much to make that worth it.

      Also, I think it's safe to say that more often than not , parents don't get divorced to make college cheaper.
    • wow on May 1, 2009 at 4:51 PM
      cynical much? that is SO MUCH paperwork and like, for one parent to even suggest it... what does that say to the family? wow.
  • alumnae3 (View Email) on May 1, 2009 at 6:15 PM
    lucas, how does getting tax /finance info cause
    "___. . .Not only does this form require that the custodial parent denounce their former mate (an easier job for some than others), but it requires the child to enumerate and relive the rocky, or sometimes terrifying, relationship they have had with their absentee dad or mom.... ___ "

    ? I think/feel you exaggerating. There is ALWAYS a simpler way. If you're parents are divorced dont even mention the other party. That way u dont have 2 worry about waivers. & what is this about a psychological evaluation? What does that matter with finance. All the fafsa/gvt needs 2 know is ho much $ u got, how much investments/stocks, & how much expenses. It isnt their business if you/mom/dad are depressed or schizophrenic or bipolar.
    • Missing the point on May 2, 2009 at 1:17 AM
      Many schools inquire. And if they exist, they'll find out right quick. You also can't lie on those forms (I mean technically you COULD) because you will just be sued for the difference.
  • to missing the point (View Email) on May 2, 2009 at 12:11 PM
    @missing the point :
    Schools dont inquire. All u do is the FAFSA & then you're done. So on the FAFSA leave the line blank where it askf for mom/father's info if they rnt in your life. You dont have to lie, just dont put anything. This isnt a lie 2 me bc just bc some1 carries/birth u or contributes sperm to your being created doesnt mean that 18yrs later they're a part of your life.

    What diff will 1 be forced to pay? If your parents are div & u live w your dad , & your mom contributes NADA, she isnt in your life. Yea she grew u and gave birth but that is it.

    Case closed.

    I get what Lucas is tryna say but he says it in a roundabout & long winded way.
  • The College Board on May 2, 2009 at 12:29 PM
    The CSS/Profile which is a form many private universities require is not like the FAFSA. It requires much more detailed info from BOTH parents regardless.

    It makes sense that just bc someone gave birth to you it doesnt make them in your life, but what Lucas is tryna say is that many schools don't see it that way.

    And i think "missing the point" meant the difference that would have resulted had both parents' incomes been counted. cause if both are counted then they don't have to give you as much.


  • The College Board on May 2, 2009 at 2:08 PM
    The CSS/Profile which is a form many private universities require is not like the FAFSA. It requires much more detailed info from BOTH parents regardless.

    It makes sense that just bc someone gave birth to you it doesnt make them in your life, but what Lucas is tryna say is that many schools don't see it that way.

    And i think "missing the point" meant the difference that would have resulted had both parents' incomes been counted. cause if both are counted then they don't have to give you as much.


  • strawberry (View Email) on May 4, 2009 at 9:01 PM
    yummyumyjmaslfsj
    good article, Lucas!!!
  • 09 on May 11, 2009 at 5:30 PM
    I completely understand what you are going through. Any kid not in a traditional nuclear family goes through a whirlwind of paperwork, fighting with the insufferable financial aid office and the snarky counselors who really do not believe that you could possibly be in a divorced family, a foster child, orphan, or what have you.
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