Edition: High School
Part: 3 - - Filling Out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
SectionTitle: Section E -- "Student Status"
Purpose: The questions in Section E determine whether the student is considered a dependent or an independent student under the law. This is often the most important section of the FAFSA for purposes of need analysis. A student who files as an independent student does not report parental information on the FAFSA. The financial aid administrator may override the students dependency status in individual cases if he or she decides that the student should be considered independent, regardless of the answers to the questions in Section E.
Independent Student Definition
A student is automatically considered independent if he or she meets at least one of the following criteria:
The student was born before January 1, 1971;
The student is a veteran of the U. S. Armed Forces;
The student is a graduate or professional student* in the 1994-95 award year;
The student is legally married;
Both of the students parents are dead, or the student is a ward of the court, and,
The student has legal dependents other than a spouse.
The instructions explain each of these criteria in greater detail. A student meeting one of these criteria is considered independent even if the student is still living with his or her parents. However, note that an incarcerated student is not considered a "ward of the court" solely based on incarceration.
Definition of "Parent"
The term "parent" is not restricted to the students natural parents. There are several instances in which a person other than the students natural parents acts as the students parent. If this person is considered a parent to the student, then the parental questions on the application must be answered as they apply to that person, in the same ways they would be answered for a natural parent.
Adoptive Parent. Treated in the same manner as natural parents.
Foster Parent. Is not treated as a parent of the student.
Legal Guardian. Is treated in the same manner as a natural parent, if he or she has been appointed by the court and has been specifically required by the court to use his or her financial resources to support the student. This legal relationship must continue after June 30, 1995. If the student is living with his or her grandparents, the income of the grandparents cannot be reported on the FAFSA unless the grandparents are court-appointed legal guardians required by the court to use their resources to support the student, or unless they have adopted the student.
Stepparent. The stepparents information is reported if the stepparent is married to the students natural parent (as of the date of application) whose information will be reported on the application, or if the student has been legally adopted by the stepparent. If the natural parent has died and the stepparent survives, then the student is independent (assuming the student is not dependent on the surviving natural parent), unless the stepparent legally adopted the student. Note that the stepparents income information from a prior year would be reported even if the parent and stepparent were not married until the next year.
In cases of death, separation, or divorce, the student must answer the parental questions on the FAFSA as they apply to the surviving or responsible parent.
Death of Parent. If one, but not both, of the students parents has died, the student would answer the parental questions based on the surviving parent, and would not report any financial information for the deceased parent on the FAFSA. If both the students parents are dead when the student fills out the FAFSA, the student must answer "yes" to Question 49, making the student independent. If the last surviving parent dies after the student fills out the application, the student must file a Correction FAFSA.
Divorce of Parents. When the students parents have divorced or separated, only one parents financial information is reported on the application. The rules for determining the "responsible parent," based on residency and support, are included in the application instructions.
Separation of Parents. If a separation has occurred, the same rules as for a divorce should be used to determine which parents information must be reported. The separation need not be a legal separation - the students parents may consider themselves separated when one of the parents has left the household for an indefinite period of time and no longer makes a substantial contribution to the finances of the household. However, if the parents still live in the same house, they would not be considered to be separated, and information for both parents must be reported.
Common Law Marriage. The financial aid administrator should check with the appropriate state agency concerning common law marriages. If the students parents are living together and have not been formally married, but meet the criteria in their state for a common-law marriage, they should report their status as married on the application. If the state does not consider the situation to be a common-law marriage, then the parents should file as separated.
After Section E, the form divides into parental information and student/spouse information. An independent student is not required to fill out parental information although health profession programs may require the information.