How the FAFSA Addresses Family Arrangements

Determining whether parental information is necessary for the FAFSA

Today's families come in all shapes, sizes and configurations. As a result, a common question is whether a student must include parent information on the FAFSA.

In general students who can't answer "yes" to any of the questions in Step 3 of the paper FAFSA) or Step 4 of FAFSA on the Web will need to complete the parental sections of the FAFSA.

The following scenarios provide answers to a certain family arrangements.

Student Does Not Live with Parents

Students who do not live with their parents are not automatically independent for financial aid purposes. Their dependency status is determined in the manner described here. If there are extenuating circumstances, the student should contact the financial aid office at the school to which he or she is applying and seek guidance about completing the FAFSA.

Parents Are Separated or Divorced

In families where the student's parents are divorced, it is often difficult to determine which parent's financial information is required on the FAFSA. In general, the student should provide the information of the parent with whom the student lived for the last 12 months prior to completing the application, or most of the last 12 months. If this parent is remarried, the stepparent's income and asset information must also be provided on the FAFSA.

If the student spent equal time with both parents, the student should provide information for the parent who provided the most financial support.

Student has Stepparent

The financial information of the student's stepparent must also be reported in most instances. The determining factor is whether the parent and stepparent are married at the time the FAFSA is completed. If the applicant's custodial parent has remarried, the parent's and stepparent's income must be reported.

Parents are unmarried but live together

If the student's legal parents are not married to each other and live together, the student should select the option on the FAFSA that states:   "Unmarried and both parents living together" and provide information about his or her parents regardless of their gender.  The parents may be biological, adoptive, or both.

Same-sex couples and Defense of Marriage Act

Consistent with the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex couples must report their marital status as married if they were legally married in a state or other jurisdiction (foreign country) that permits same-sex marriage.  Parents should select the option of "Married or remarried" on the FAFSA.