Editor's Note: Federal FAFSA rules can and do change. For the latest information, please read Susan Shogren's 2015 update on FAFSA Question No. 59.
The 2014-15 FAFSA could pose a challenge for financial-aid-seeking dependent students with modern families. Due to recent changes in federal rules governing what parent information is required, many parents helping to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid may be stumped by FAFSA Question 59, which asks parents to check the appropriate marital status description. Some students and parents will be checking a different option than they checked last year, even if there hasn’t been a change in marital status.
Question 59 introduces a new set of five marital status categories. The “Single” parent category on last year’s FAFSA has been replaced with two brand new options:
- “Unmarried and both parents living together” applies to students whose legal (biological or adoptive) parents are not legally married but are living together at the time the FAFSA is filed.
- “Never married” applies, for example, to a student whose legal parents were never married to each other and currently are not living together.
Why the change?
Last April, the U.S. Department of Education announced that, if a student’s legal – that is, the biological or adoptive – parents were living together, the income and financial information for both parents would be required, regardless of the parents’ marital status or gender. The change became effective with the 2014-15 FAFSA, which went online January 1st. Under the rules in effect last year, information for both parents had to be provided only if they were married as that term was defined in federal terms.
In addition, last summer, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. In December 2013, the U.S. Department of Education announced that a student – or a dependent student's legal parents – will be considered married if that is the current status at the time the FAFSA is completed and if the couple – regardless of gender – was legally married according to the rules of the jurisdiction where the marriage took place. This rule applies regardless of where the student and parents live now or where the student is going to school. As a result, information for both spouses in the marriage belongs on the FAFSA, which could affect the 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial aid award cycles.
Again, the new rules stipulate that information for both legal parents is required if they are living together, regardless of marital status or gender. Thus, if you’re a dependent student and your legal parents are living together, financial information for both parents is required whether your parents are married to each other or not. Even if your legal parents are separated or divorced, information for both parents is required if both legal parents are living together the day you file your FAFSA.
1. Are both of your legal parents living together on the day you submit your FAFSA? If your answer is yes, the FAFSA requires income and asset information for both parents.
2. If your legal parents aren’t living together, where do you live most of the time? In this situation, your FAFSA parent is your custodial parent – the parent with whom you lived the most during the past year. If you did not live with either of your legal parents, then the custodial parent is the one who supported you the most during the past 12 months.
3. Is your custodial parent is married to someone else? If so, you must include your stepparent’s financial information also.
Still confused? The following table and information provide a guide to which parent’s information must be listed on your FAFSA, and what marital status category to check. Or take CollegeUp.org’s “Who’s My FAFSA Parent?” quiz, which can determine your FAFSA parent reporting requirements in just a few clicks. The quiz also features a glossary to help you select the correct marital status category.
A few tips:
- If your legal parents are separated but still living at the same address, your FAFSA parent – the parent who helps you complete the FAFSA – should check the “Married or remarried” category when reporting marital status.
- If your legal parents are divorced but are living together, your FAFSA parent should check the “Unmarried and both parents living together” option. (Last year, assuming the same family circumstances, the FAFSA parent marital status category would have been “Divorced or separated.”)
- What if your legal parents aren’t living together? If they’re married, they still need to check the “Married or remarried” option. Divorced or separated parents who aren’t living together qualify for the “Divorced or separated” category.
- If your FAFSA/custodial parent never married your other legal parent and is not married to someone else, check the “Never married” category.
- If your legal parents never married or are now divorced, and your custodial parent is married to someone else at the time you submit your FAFSA, you must use your custodial parent’s information to complete your FAFSA. You must check the “Married or remarried” status, and provide information for your stepparent.
Susan Shogren is a Regional Training Executive for USA Funds.
This post was updated on January 23, 2015.