It’s Complicated

fafsaThe time has finally come.  This week, Deb and I attended our first meeting to learn about all the forms and documents that need to be completed if we want to receive any financial aid for our first son when he goes to college.  Where have all the years gone?   It seems like it was just yesterday that I was working with my own parents to fill out many of the same forms.  Somehow, we now have a son who is a junior in High School and will be heading out of the nest in a year and a half.

This financial aid process seems a lot more daunting as a parent than it did as a student.  Maybe that is because so much of it sounds like a foreign language with acronyms like FAFSA and 529s.  Probably it is because the cost of going to college has more than doubled since I went through this process a few years back.  Interestingly, while all of these forms are now on line, they don’t seem any easier to understand or complete.

We were blessed to hear a great presentation from a college admissions and paperwork expert from Villanova University that night.  Apparently we were not the only parents interested in this information as the cafeteria was packed and every one had questions.  Not surprisingly, the presenter spent a great deal of his time trying to answer the very specific and often technical questions from those of us in the audience.

As the evening progressed, I began to notice an interesting theme developing.  As we were going through one of the key forms, I noticed all of the nuanced language related to divorced parents, joint custody and how to complete the information if this applied to you.  Naively, I thought this might apply to a few parents who would quietly ask their questions once the main presentation was done.

Ironically, hand after hand shot up asking detailed questions about aspects of divorce, custody and its implications for the financial aid process.  Some wanted to know who had to fill out the forms and how much income did they have to report.  Others wanted to know if they needed to get the other parent involved at all.  As the night wore on, it became apparent that this issue of divorce, remarriage and child custody was a widespread issue and impacted a lot of kids.

The reality of our messed up world and the implications of marital breakup have far reaching consequences.   I did not envy the many single or remarried parents who will have an even more complicated task in filling out these forms than we will.  Getting financial aid for your college student is already challenging enough without having to face to dilemma of getting a reluctant former spouse to provide data they may not want to share.

When you get married as a young and immature person, it is almost impossible to imagine all that will take place along life’s journey.  One thing is for sure; staying married is one of the biggest blessings you can pass on to your kids.  In big and small ways, this simple act of remaining faithful to a sacred vow has the power to bless generations to come.  Who knew that I would look at my spouse at the end of that evening and look forward to filling out a form together?  What a joy it is to know that we have no financial data to hide from each other and no children’s custody to fight over.   We may not get all the financial aid we would like, but at least we will be doing it together.

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