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Am I Dependent or Independent?
Dependent students are required to report parent information on the FAFSA. For reporting purposes, “parent” means your legal (biological or adoptive) parent or step parent, or a person that the state has determined to be your legal parent. A student that is determined to be homeless or self-supporting is considered independent and will need to provide documentation.
This page answers common questions about the relationship between divorce and financial aid. It discusses which parent is responsible for completing the FAFSA, and the obligations of stepparents. If your parents are separated or divorced, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The custodial parent for federal student aid purposes is the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months. (The twelve month period is the twelve month period ending on the FAFSA application date, not the previous calendar year.) Note that this is not necessarily the same as the parent who has legal custody. If you did not live with one parent more than the other, the parent who provided you with the most financial support during the past twelve months should fill out the FAFSA. This is probably the parent who claimed you as a dependent on their tax return. If you have not received any support from either parent during the past 12 months, use the most recent calendar year for which you received some support from a parent. These rules are based on section 475(f)(1) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 USC 1087oo(f)(1)).
Biological parents who never married are treated the same as parents who are divorced. Note, however, that any child support and/or alimony received from the non-custodial parent must be included on the FAFSA. Financial aid applications can be somewhat confusing because there are several different criteria applied for different kinds of parenthood:
- The parent with whom the child lived the most during the past 12 months (the 12 months ending on the FAFSA application date).
- The parent who provided more financial support to the child during the past 12 months.
- The parent who provided the most financial support to the child during the most recent calendar year for which either parent provided more support to the child.
- The parent who provided more than half the child's support (and will continue to do so).
- The parent who has legal custody.
- The parent who claimed the child as a dependent on their tax return.
- The parent with the greater income.
Obligations of Stepparents
My parents are divorced, and the parent I'm living with has remarried. Does my stepparent have to report his or her income and assets on the FAFSA? Yes, provided that the parent you're living with is the one filling out the FAFSA (your custodial parent). If your stepparent is married to them at the time you fill out the FAFSA, they must report their income and assets even if they weren't married to them in the previous year. The specific statutory citation that supports this is 20 USC 1087oo(f)(3), which is section 475(f)(3) of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
If a parent whose income and assets are taken into account under paragraph (1) of this subsection, or if a parent who is a widow or widower and whose income is taken into account under paragraph (2) of this subsection, has remarried, the income of that parent's spouse shall be included in determining the parent's adjusted available income only if --
(B) the student is not an independent student.
My custodial parent remarried and signed a prenuptial agreement that absolves the stepparent from financial responsibility for my education. Why does my stepparent have to provide financial information on the FAFSA?
Prenuptial agreements are ignored by the federal need analysis process. Regardless of any prenuptial agreements to the contrary. If a stepparent marries the parent, he or she is considered responsible for supporting the parent and children even if he or she is unwilling to do so.