When Answering FAFSA Question 59, Which Marital Status Option Should Be Checked?

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.

2014-15 FAFSA Question 59

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.

Dazed and confused? If you're a dependent student, the following questions may help you sort through the maze of marital status categories:

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. 

2014-15 FAFSA Marital Status Categories

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, USA FundsSusan Shogren is a Regional Training Executive for USA Funds.

This post was updated on January 23, 2015.

Related posts:

Wondering How to Answer FAFSA Question No. 59?

CollegeUp.org Launches New "Who's My FAFSA Parent?" Quiz Just in Time for 2014-15 FAFSA Filing Season That Begins January 1st

New FAFSA Parent Rules Explained

Top 10 List of What You Need to Complete Your FAFSA

Employ the Free FAFSA4caster to Explore Eligibility for 2014-15 Financial Aid

Comments for When Answering FAFSA Question 59, Which Marital Status Option Should Be Checked?


Name: christa oneil
Time: Tuesday, March 25, 2014

i have made the correction on my son's fafsa from never married to married or remarried because I was never married to my sons biological dad, but have been married to his stepdad for 15 years. my fafsa says I need to correct it because I put on line 60 that me and my husband were married april 1999.. HELP!!

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Christa Oneil:

In response to your comment/query posted on March 25, 2014:

The FAFSA is looking for your current information, including your current marital status. If you are in fact married at the time that you complete the FAFSA, then the FAFSA rules require that you report your marital status as married. In addition, you must include, in the financial information section of the FAFSA, the financial data applicable to your spouse (your son’s stepfather).

Name: Jarrod
Time: Monday, July 21, 2014

If I am remairred but we are filing taxes as married filing separate will I still need to use my wife's finances

Name: Victoria
Time: Monday, July 28, 2014

Hello! I am single and have never been married. I have an adopted daughter from China. How should I answer the FAFSA Question 59? Thank you!

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Victoria:

In response to the comment/query you posted on July 28, 2014:

The answer, according to Sue Allmon, a regular CollegeUp.org Blog contributor and an experienced financial aid administrator, depends on whether you the student or the parent.

Question 59 asks about the marital status of the parent of the student completing the FAFSA. So, if you are the parent, then, as of today, you would select the “Never married” status since you have never been married.

If you are the student, then how did you complete Step 3 on the FAFSA? Since you have a daughter, are you providing over 50 percent of her support? If so, then in Step 3, you would have answered “Yes” to Question 51. This response would have indicated that you are an independent student and, therefore, you do not need to report information about your parents. That means you don't have to answer Question 59.

Name: Patty
Time: Friday, August 8, 2014

Our situation is unmarried biological parents living together, but dad does not provide any financial support for the student, and does not claim the child on his federal tax return. EFC went from 2900 to 10216 after having to comply with the new rules and include his small $21,000 income. I soley provide 100% of the support for both our children (the other is still in high school). Does not seem fair that his income now has to be considered when calculating EFC when he offically provides no financial support. Including it almost quadrupled the EFC. Is there anything we can do?

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Friday, August 8, 2014

Patty:

In response to the comment/query you posted on August 8, 2014:

We checked with Sue Allmon, a regular CollegeUp.org Blog contributor and financial aid expert. According to Sue: "Unfortunately, according to current federal rules, there is nothing you can do. Since you live with the other biological parent, that parent's income must be included as part of the household income, and that individual is included in household size."

Name: Samantha
Time: Thursday, October 16, 2014

How does my filing status effect my FAFSA? My school is denying me my FAFSA because of my filing status.

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Friday, October 17, 2014

Samantha:

In response to the comment/query you posted on October 16, 2014:

We assume by “filing status,” you are referring to your tax filing status, such as single, married filing jointly, head of household, etc. If this is not correct, please let us know so we can amend our response. Your tax filing status, when compared with other information on your FAFSA, can present conflicting information that the school must resolve before awarding any federal financial aid. For example, if your tax filing status is “single,” but your FAFSA marital status is “married,” and you did not provide your spouse’s income information, the school must resolve this discrepancy. Please contact your school to find out what documentation you need to provide to resolve this issue.

Name: Will
Time: Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hello,

I have a student who's mother filed her taxes as "head of household" because that was the proper way to file at the time (she was separated from her husband over 6 months and was caring for her daughter). Since filing her husband has moved back in. My student is filling out the FAFSA now for the spring semester and we are unsure how to proceed. Thanks for your help!

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Will:

In response to the comment/query you posted on December 2, 2014:

The student must report her parents’ marital status as of the day she files the FAFSA. In this case, the parents are married and living together. Because the mother filed her taxes as head of household, and now must include her husband’s income information (which isn’t on the tax return), the parents will not be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

Name: Kevin
Time: Friday, December 19, 2014

My biological mother has been living with a man who has provided 100% financial support. We have no contact with my bio father. My mother does not work, and they aren't married and he is not my biological father. We live in California. What should I do on the FAFSA application?

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Monday, December 22, 2014

Kevin:

In response to the comment/query you posted December 19, 2014:

We assume your biological parents were either never married or were divorced or separated for more than one year. We also assume the man has not adopted you. It also appears that California does not recognize common law marriages. If any of this information is not correct, please let us know so we can amend our response. Only your mother must provide her financial information in the parental section of the FAFSA. She does not report on the FAFSA the money or in-kind support she receives from this man; however, you must report any cash support he provides you on the FAFSA (question 45j of the 2014-15 FAFSA). The man does not count in your household size, and if you have any siblings that he supports, they also are excluded from the household size.

Name: Justin
Time: Saturday, January 3, 2015

My biological parents are divorced but mom remarried to my step-dad who provides 100% financial support. I do not have a relationship with my biological dad but I think he pays child support, something like 2K/year. My mother does not work. We live in Florida. I do not know the filing status of my parents' tax return for 2013 or 2014, joint or separate. What should I do on my application? Thanks for your help.

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Justin:

In response to the comment/query you posted on January 3, 2015:

Because your parents are divorced and your mom remarried, you would provide your mother and stepfather’s information on the FAFSA. The tax filing status of your biological father is irrelevant for FAFSA purposes, and you would only provide the tax information of your mother and stepfather.

Name: Cristina
Time: Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My parents were never married and have been separated for over 11 years what do I put for question 59?

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cristina:

In response to the comment/query you posted on January 20, 2015:

If your parents do not live together, then you select “never married.” If they do live together, you select, “unmarried and both parents living together.” You can also use the CollegeUp.org “Who is my FAFSA Parent?” quiz to determine which parent’s information you must report on the FAFSA: http:/fafsaquiz.collegeup.org

Name: Derek
Time: Thursday, January 29, 2015

This whole thing is messed up. Me and my wife have our own children and yet we have to use each others income which effects the amount our children are awarded. I have my own son I have to put through college but providing both incomes reduced the award by nearly 30k over 4 years. The cost of college has become ridiculous.

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Thursday, January 29, 2015

Derek:

In response to the comment/query you posted on January 29, 2015:

The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, governs what information students must provide on the FAFSA. The law states that a dependent student must provide information for his legal parent and stepparent, because including both parents’ information provides a more complete picture of the family’s financial strength. If you feel the FAFSA does not provide an accurate picture of your family’s situation, please talk with the financial aid office at your son’s school. The U.S. Department of Education provides additional resources regarding college cost and resources: https://studentaid.ed.gov/resources/parents and information about reporting parental data on the FAFSA here: https://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out/parent-info.

Name: Z.
Time: Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hi!

My FAFSA status is dependent. My parents were legally separated in all of 2014. For the the year 2015-16 fafsa, I reported them as such: legally separated.
Question then: If they get back together and remove the legal seperation sometimes this year (2015), am I suppose to update my 2015-16 fafsa to change their marriage status to married and does this affect my 2015-16 award?
Thanks for the help!!

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Z:

In response to the comment/query you posted on February 4, 2015:

Generally speaking, the information on the FAFSA must be accurate as of the date the application was signed. A change in your parents’ marital status would not warrant such an update. However, if you are selected for verification, either you or the school must update your household size and number in college data to be accurate as of the date the school completed verification. So if your application is selected for verification, and your parents reconcile before verification is complete, your application must reflect the new household size. Here is some additional information about updating your FAFSA data: https://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/next-steps/correct-update.

Name: Tresa
Time: Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hello,
I have a question. My daughter's biological parents are divorced. I (Mom) provide 100% of her care. I filed taxes as head of household because although remarried, we are NOT living in the same household. We do NOT share finances. My spouse and I are not legally separated, but for all purposes separated. (We even live in totally different cities!) I do NOT have access to his tax information at all. On the FAFSA can I put down...biological parents divorced and NOT enter stepdad. Or do I have to have already filed the legal portion of legal separation in my state. Or can I just include my information and my daughter's on the fafsa? Thank you very much!

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tresa:

In response to the comment/query you posted on February 22, 2015:

For the 2015-16 financial aid award year, parents who are separated and not living together should indicate a marital status of “Divorced or Separated” when filing the FAFSA. According the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance at www.studentaid.ed.gov, “For FAFSA purposes, your married parents are separated if they are considered legally separated by a state, or if they are legally married but have chosen to live separate lives, including living in separate households, as though they were not married.”

The legal parent who should help the student complete the FAFSA is the one with whom the student has lived the most in the past 12 months or, if neither, then the parent who provided more than half of the student’s support in the past 12 months.

Name: Diane Rush
Time: Sunday, March 29, 2015

I was widowed for all of 2014, then remarried 2/15. I am happy to include my husband, now stepdad on the fafsa, but it thinks it's a mistake that my taxes were filed 'single', and we legally still live in different states. Do I just blow right past the error messages? I want to tell the truth, but they don't like it!

Name: Donna
Time: Monday, March 30, 2015

When married and filing jointly, AGI for both parents is counted, is that correct? However, my only income is Social Security Disability and a small retirement disability. The FAFSA form asks for earned income. Is SSD and a retirement disability considered EARNED income, since it really is a benefit on money I already earned? How should we list or explain this on FAFSA?

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Monday, March 30, 2015

Diane Rush:

In response to the comment/query you posted on March 29, 2015:

If you remarried before your student filed the FAFSA, then you must include your husband’s information on the application. You will not be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to populate the income information on the FAFSA, so you will need to add your and your husband’s data manually. Please work with the school’s financial aid office or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID to ensure you report the correct information.

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Monday, March 30, 2015

Donna:

In response to the comment/query you posted on March 30, 2015:

Yes, if the parents are married at the time the student files the FAFSA, she must report the AGI for both parents on the FAFSA. Parental income earned from work comes from various lines of the tax return, and does not include SSD or retirement disability. Those funds will only count in the reported AGI.

For additional information, please see pages 68-69 from this document: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sites/default/files/2015-16-completing-fafsa.pdf.

Name: Caleb Valenzuela
Time: Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hello,
I am applying for fafsa. However, my mom and biological dad are divorced. But my mom got remarried and is now living separate. Which category do I chose?

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Friday, April 10, 2015

Caleb Valenzuela:

In response to the comment/query you posted on April 9, 2015:

We assume you lived with your biological mother more during the last 12 months. If this is not correct, please let us know so we may amend our response.

Based on this assumption, your legal parents for FAFSA purposes are your mother and stepparent. Therefore, you need to report your mother’s current marital status to your stepparent on the FAFSA. Because the status of “separated” has multiple details, please review the FAFSA help text on this question at the link provided below and contact your school’s financial aid office or the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243 for additional assistance.

https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1516/help/fotw01e.htm

Name: John
Time: Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Does a student qualify for more financial aid is the parents are "legally seperated" vs Divorced. The custodial parent would be the same and the only one to provide income on FAFSA in both cases however if legally seperated the parents can still file a "Joint tax return" vs Divorced and filing seperately. Does this have a tax benefit one way or the other? THank you.

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Thursday, April 30, 2015

John:

In response to the comment/query you posted on April 29, 2015:

No, the resulting information you must report on the FAFSA will not change if your parents are separated or divorced. If they are separated/divorced and not living together, you would only report financial information for the custodial parent. If your separated/divorced parents are living together, then you must report both parents’ data.

See additional information on the Department of Education’s website: https://studentaid.ed.gov/fafsa/filling-out/parent-info#divorced-separated-living-apart.

Name: J.C.
Time: Friday, May 8, 2015

Married but have been having problems the last couple of years. Trying to bring our family back together though. But last year we filed head of household because we had 2 different home. How do I explain that for financial aid???

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Friday, May 8, 2015

J.C.:

In response to the comment/query you posted on May 8, 2015:

According to the FAFSA help site (https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1516/help/fotw17a.htm), if you are legally separated or living separate lives as though you were not married, you must indicate “separated” on the FAFSA. If you still consider yourself married, even though you are separated by physical distance, then you are “married” for FAFSA purposes.

If the financial aid office at your school questions your marital and tax filing status, and requests documentation justifying your filing status, please talk with a tax preparation expert to obtain such documentation. If you are married and file as head of household, you will not be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to complete the FAFSA, and you will need to provide both your and your spouse’s financial data on the application manually.

Please continue to work with your school’s financial aid office to resolve any conflicting information that may exist on your account regarding this situation.

Name: Megan
Time: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I am looking to fill out a fafsa for 2015-2016 school year. I recently got married 04/2015 and so when I filed my 2014 taxes I filed as single. How do I input that information since they will not match. Do I put that I'm married or single?

Name: J.b
Time: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Have a daughter that I was never married to her bio dad but got married when she was 4. My husband has never leagally adopted her but has cared for her 100% her entire life. I have never received ant child support from bio dad. Who do I need to put on her financial aid?i do not work currently .

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Megan:

In response to the comment/query you posted on May 19, 2015:

Based on the information you provided, answer these FAFSA questions in the following way:

• Marital status should be answered as “married.”

• What income tax return did you file for 2014? If you and your spouse filed different types of returns, see table here: https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1516/help/taxTypeReport.htm.

• What is your (and your spouse’s) adjusted gross income for 2014? For more information, go to https://fafsa.ed.gov/help/fotw04cF4c.htm and scroll to the section labeled “If you and your spouse filed separate tax returns, use the table below to calculate your total AGI."

• Enter the amount of your (and your spouse’s) income tax for 2014. For more information, go to https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1516/help/fotw05c.htm and refer to the section labeled “If you and your spouse filed separate tax returns . . .”

• Enter your (and your spouse’s) exemptions for 2014. Add your and your spouse’s exemptions. For details, go to https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1516/help/fotw06c.htm.

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Wednesday, May 27, 2015

J.B.:

In response to the comment/query you posted on May 19, 2015:

Since your husband is a stepparent to your daughter you will provide both your and your husband’s income and asset information on the FAFSA. The one exception to that will be the questions that ask about the parents’ education level. For those questions only, the stepparent is not a parent and instead you should answer about yourself and your daughter’s biological father.

Name: M.T.
Time: Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hello, my mother's tax return states she is "head of household", but my father's tax return says he submitted it as "single." They were separated in 2008, and they have different legal addresses, but my father "lives" in the household with us.
I originally picked the married option because I didn't know they were separated at the time. I since then changed their status to divorced or separated and my college is questioning this change. Does "unmarried and living together" mean that they have to have the same legal address?

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Saturday, June 13, 2015

M.T.:

In response to the comment/query you posted on June 11, 2015:

If your parents were separated but living together at the time your FAFSA was filed (regardless of whether or not they had/have separate legal addresses) the correct marital status for your parents is “Married or Remarried.” FAFSA instructions found at fafsa.ed.gov state very specifically, “If your parents are separated but living together, select “Married or Remarried,” not “Divorced or Separated.”

For details, go to https://fafsa.ed.gov/fotw1516/help/fotw01e.htm.

Name: Shelley
Time: Monday, July 6, 2015

I have two children and the biological child and I are divorced. I am planning on moving in with my boyfriend in South Carolina once the 2nd child goes away to school. South Carolina is a common law state and recognizes common law marriage. We are not planning on claiming that status. He does pay for things for me. What would I claim on the FASFA in this situation?

Name: Kai
Time: Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My mother and father are divorced and have been since 2004. My mother is engaged but not married to a man who has 3 children with 2 going to college along with my sister and I who will be in college next year. We all live in the same household how does my mom fill out household size on FAFSA question.

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shelley:

In response to the comment/query you posted on July 6, 2015:

We suggest that you take the “Who’s My FAFSA Parent?” quiz (http://fafsaquiz.collegeup.org/) to first determine whether your child is a dependent or independent student. If your child is a dependent student, the quiz will help you determine which parent should provide financial information and which marital status to select.

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Thursday, July 9, 2015

Kai:

In response to the comment/query you posted on July 7, 2015:

It appears you are dependent for financial aid purposes, and you’re living with your biological mother who is divorced from your biological father, which would make your mother your custodial parent. If she isn’t remarried when you complete the FAFSA, you would list her marital status as “Divorced.” The interactive “Who’s My FAFSA Parent?” quiz could help you confirm this: http://fafsaquiz.collegeup.org/.

If this is correct, then the household size you report should include at least you and your mother. You can add other people if they meet the requirements as listed in the instructions on the 2015-2016 FAFSA, which are summarized here:

• Your mother’s other children (such as your sister) if your mother will provide more than half of their support between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, OR if the children would be considered dependent for financial aid purposes (even if they don’t apply for financial aid).

• Other people (such as her fiancé and/or his children) if they now live with your mother, your mother provides more than half of their support and your mother will continue to provide more than half of their support between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016. Note that you’ll want consider each of the “other people” individually, not as a group. It may be appropriate to include all of them, or some of them, or none of them.

Name: sam
Time: Wednesday, July 22, 2015

my parent file tax return both file as head of household How does my filing status effect my FAFSA? denying me my FAFSA because of my filing status. please healp

Name: Patricia Scherschel, CollegeUp Blog Administrator
Time: Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sam:

In response to the comment/query you posted on July 2, 2015:

Tax filing status, by itself, does not mean you cannot apply for federal financial aid by submitting the FAFSA. That said, the correct tax filing status must be reported and may need to be verified. We do not have enough information here to be able to recommend a specific course of action. Instead, please contact your school’s Financial Aid Office to ask for clarification.

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