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What Can You Do If Your Parents Won't File the FAFSA or Help Pay for College?

Mark Kantrowitz

May 17, 2010

I am in kind of a bad situation. I had a bit of personal problems and had to move out of my house and no longer live with my parents. Unfortunately they will no longer pay for any of my schooling. I previously filled out the FAFSA and did not qualify because my parents made too much money. However, because I no longer live with them and they will no longer pay for my schooling, I was wondering if there was any kind of financial aid that I do qualify for. I was also wondering if I would be able to file as an independent instead of dependent on the FAFSA. — Jarrod W.

There are a variety of reasons why students and parents part ways. Sometimes the parents are divorced and a stepparent kicks the child out of the home when he or she reaches the age of majority. According to a 1998 study, 29% of children of divorced parents get parental support for college costs compared with 88% of children from intact families. Sometimes the student and parents disagree over religious or cultural practices, criminal activity (especially drug use), a boyfriend or girlfriend (of a different race or religion or age or of the same sex) or teen pregnancy. Sometimes the disagreement is over the student’s choice of college, especially when the college is more expensive than the parents can afford.

Sometimes the student is still living at home, but the parents refuse to complete the FAFSA. Often this is because of privacy concerns, because one of the parents is undocumented, or because of a failure to file federal income tax returns.

Explain your situation to the financial aid administrator at your college. Sometimes they can help you reconcile with your parents or address your parents’ concerns. If that fails, they may be able to grant you independent student status. However, parental refusal to complete the FAFSA and verification forms and to contribute to your education are not sufficient grounds on their own or in combination for a dependency override. Likewise, even if you are totally self-sufficient and your parents don’t claim you as an exemption on their federal income tax returns, that isn’t enough justification for a dependency override. But if the home environment is abusive, the financial aid administrator might be able to grand a dependency override. They will want to see copies of court protection from abuse orders, police reports and a report from your social worker. Letters from people who are familiar with your situation, such as guidance counselors, doctors, clergy and teachers may also be helpful.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 amended section 479A(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to permit college financial aid administrators to offer dependent students an unsubsidized Stafford loan without requiring the parents to file a FAFSA, provided that the financial aid administrator verifies that the parents have ended financial support to the student and refuse to file the FAFSA. This isn’t much, and it isn’t a grant, but it might be enough for you to enroll at a low cost community college. You might also be able to qualify for some of the education tax benefits, such as the Hope Scholarship tax credit and the student loan interest deduction.

The only alternative is to wait until you reach age 24, when you will be considered automatically independent. You will then be able to file the FAFSA on your own without your parents help.

My husband and I currently have our child listed as a dependent and we are not getting much financial aid. She is 19. If she files her own taxes will she get more aid? — Tisha S.

No. A child is considered a dependent student for federal student aid purposes until age 24, unless she is married, has dependents other than a spouse, is a veteran or active duty member of the Armed Forces, is a graduate student or satisfies a variety of less common criteria for independent student status. Even if she is financially self-sufficient, lives on her own and is not claimed as an exemption on your federal income tax return, she is still considered a dependent for federal student aid purposes.

My 20-year-old son was emancipated legally last year when his father sued me for modification of the child support obligation on our original divorce decree regarding him and his now 17-year-old brother. Since he was of legal age at the time of this modification, the court order declares him emancipated. I claimed him as a dependent on last year’s federal income tax return and have filled out a FAFSA form for him for the last two years. Do I need to fill out a FAFSA for him this year? Does he qualify as an independent? — Pam Y.

You still need to complete the FAFSA for him as a dependent student.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 amended section 480(d)(1)© of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to treat as independent any student who becomes an emancipated minor before reaching the age of majority. The specific legislative language is: “is, or was immediately prior to attaining the age of majority, an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship as determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in the individual’s State of legal residence”.

The term emancipation is often used to refer to the status of a child when child support obligations end, such as when the child reaches the age of majority. This is not, however, the same as an emancipated minor. An emancipated minor becomes an adult able to sign contracts before reaching the age of majority through a court order. A court order terminating child support upon the child’s reaching the age of majority does not qualify, not even if it uses the word emancipation. The statutory language was quite specific in using the language “emancipated minor” as opposed to just “emancipation”.


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