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If a Student's Parents Do Not Claim Him as a Dependent on their Income Tax Returns, Will the Student Get More Financial Aid?

Mark Kantrowitz

February 20, 2012

College financial aid administrators do have the authority to override a student’s dependency status from dependent to independent in unusual circumstances. Unusual circumstances might include an abusive family environment (e.g., court protection from abuse orders against the parents), abandonment by both parents or when both parents are incarcerated, institutionalized or otherwise incapacitated. For example, a common scenario for a dependency override occurs when the student’s parents are divorced, the custodial parent dies and the student has had no meaningful contact or support from the non-custodial parent for a long time.

However, college financial aid administrators are not permitted to grant a dependency override just because the student is self-sufficient, the parents do not claim the student as an exemption on their income tax returns, the parents refuse to complete the FAFSA or the parents refuse to contribute to the student’s college education.

Criteria for Independent Student Status

  • A student who will be age 24 or older as of December 31 of the award year is considered to be independent.

  • A student who is married is considered to be independent.

  • A student who is or will be enrolled in graduate school during the award year is considered to be independent. This includes students who are pursuing a Master’s degree, MBA, MSW, MD, JD, PhD or other doctorate.

  • A student who is currently serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard) for purposes other than training is considered to be an independent student. A student who is a member of the National Guard or Reserves must be on active duty for other than state or training purposes in order to be considered an independent student.

  • A student who is (or will be by the start of the award year) a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces after serving at least one day on active duty other than for training purposes is considered to be an independent student if the student was released from service under a condition other than “dishonorable” in Box 24 of the DD214. Similar rules apply to students who served on active duty with the National Guard or Reserves for purposes other than state or training purposes or who were a cadet or midshipman at one of the service academies.

  • A student who has one or more children (including unborn children who will be born during the award year) who receive more than half their support from the student and who will continue to receive more than half their support from the student throughout the award year is considered to be independent. The children do not need to live with the student, so long as they satisfy the support test. Support includes money, gifts and loans, as well as payments on behalf of the student for food, clothing, housing, transportation, medical and dental care, insurance and college costs. Support provided by the student includes any support received from anyone other than the student’s parents, such as money from government benefit programs and child support from the student’s boyfriend/girlfriend. The support must be reported on the FAFSA.

  • A student who has one or more dependents other than children or a spouse who receive more than half their support from the student and who will continue to receive more than half their support from the student throughout the award year is considered to be independent, provided that the dependents live with the student.

  • A student who, at any time after turning age 13, was an orphan (no living biological or adoptive parents), in foster care or a dependent/ward of the court, is considered to be independent. Note that a ward of the court is not the same as a ward of the state. A student who was incarcerated may still be considered a dependent student.

  • A student who is or was an emancipated minor as determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in the student’s state of legal residence at the time is considered to be independent. Note that a student who was emancipated as part of a child support agreement is not considered to be an emancipated minor. The emancipation must have occured before the student reached the age of majority.

  • A student who is or was in a court-ordered legal guardianship in the student’s state of legal residence at the time is considered to be independent. If the legal guardianship ended before the student reached the age of majority, the student is not considered to be independent. The legal guardianship must have been court-ordered; voluntary placements with grandparents or other relatives do not count unless they are court-ordered.

  • A student who was determined to be an unaccompanied homeless youth is considered to be independent. The determination must have been made on or after July 1, 2010 by the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by HUD.

  • A student who was determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or an unaccompanied youth who was self-supporting and at risk of being homeless is considered to be independent. The determination must have been made on or after July 1, 2010 by the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program.


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