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Is a Student with Children But No Income Considered to be Independent?

Mark Kantrowitz

January 30, 2012

I am under 24 years of age. I did not have any income the year before last. I have 2 children and live with a partner of 6 years. He is the father of my children. We are not married. He supported us on his income; my mother did not. I was a stay at home mom. My school is telling me I need to report my mother’s information on the FAFSA. But the people with FAFSA said I do not. I keep getting different answers to what I should do.

Not to mention that I have been asking my mom to give me the information since last semester, which I could not afford so I dropped my classes. She said I’m an adult and I should be able to handle this myself.

My school told me to write a statement of common law marriage to put down my significant other’s tax information so I could get financial aid for this year. To me that is just all confusing, so I do not want to do that until it legally says we are married.

I have been working since June of last year, but I’m not sure how much I would have to make to say I provided half the support for my kids. I only made under $8,000 last year. I also do not claim the kids on my taxes; their father does.

I am just going to start out new for this year and deal with the stress of paying out of pocket. But it’s draining me. I won’t be able to continue like this. I do not know what I am supposed to do. Please help point me in the right direction. — Desiree

The answer provided by the FAFSA people, also known as the Federal Student Aid Information Center (1-800-4-FED-AID), is correct.

Parental information is not required on the FAFSA of an independent student. An applicant who has one or more dependents other than a spouse is considered to be an independent student. (The refusal of the applicant’s parent to complete the FAFSA is irrelevant to the determination of the applicant’s dependency status.)

For the applicant’s children to be considered dependents of the applicant, the applicant must provide more than half of the children’s support. (It is sufficient if the applicant provides more than half support to a single child, even if she has multiple children, since just one dependent child is sufficient to make the applicant independent.)

The definition of support includes more than just the cash and in-kind support that is directly provided by the applicant. Any support received by the applicant for her children counts as part of the support she provides to her children, so long as the support was not received from the applicant’s parents. For example, any support the applicant receives from the children’s father counts as part of her support for the children. Money received from government benefit programs, such as TANF, also counts as part of the applicant’s support for the children. (Note that the definition of support used for federal student aid purposes is not the same as the definition of support used for federal income tax purposes. The treatment of government benefit programs is one of the areas in which the US Department of Education and the IRS differ.)

If the support provided by the applicant exceeds the support provided by her parents, the children are considered to be dependent on the applicant and the applicant is considered to be an independent student.

The applicant does not need to be married to her boyfriend or to list his income on her FAFSA in order to count the support he provides as part of her support of the children. However, any support he provides to the applicant or her children must be reported on her FAFSA in the line labeled “Money received, or paid on your behalf (e.g., bills), not reported elsewhere on this form.” This includes not just the cash he provides and the bills he pays on the applicant’s behalf, but also the fair rental value of the lodging he provides. According to page AVG-20 of the 2011-12 Application and Verification Guide, “Cash support includes money, gifts, and loans, plus housing, food, clothing, car payments or expenses, medical and dental care, college costs, and any money paid to someone else on [her] behalf.”


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