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Must the Student's Child Live with the Student for the Student to be Independent?

Mark Kantrowitz

November 05, 2012

I’m 23 and have a 4-year-old child. Last year I received independent status for my financial aid because I supported my child more than 51% of his needs. This year the financial aid office asked for the same documents as last year but told me that I couldn’t be an independent student because I didn’t have enough documented proof. I explained and provided documents showing that the mother doesn’t work and I pay $100 a week in child support. I also presented a document from the mother stating that I am the custodial parent. I also claim him as an exemption on my income tax return. In reality I pay probably 90% of his expenses. Last year the only problem was that he wasn’t living with me but I helped pay rent on the home with his mother. This year he is living with me but the financial aid office deemed that there wasn’t enough documentation showing that. I asked if the mother were to apply for this, they then told me it would have been a quick process and she would have been approved because she is the mother. Because I’m the father I have to jump through hoops. They asked me to bring a different document every week for 6 weeks before they told me I had to apply as dependent. What can I do to fix this problem? I don’t receive any money from my parents and they already paid for my education when I was 18 before I had a child and they don’t want do that again. — Jeremy B.

There are several ways for a student to be independent for federal student aid purposes. The most common ways are to be over age 24 as of December 31 of the award year, to be married, to have dependents other than a spouse, to be a graduate student, to be an orphan, to be a veteran or to be serving on active duty in the Armed Forces for other than training purposes.

To be an independent student by virtue of having a legal dependent other than a spouse, the student’s child must receive more than half of his or her support from the student. The student’s child does not need to live with the student.

Dependents other than a child must live with the student and receive more than half their support from the student for the student to be considered independent. Dependent children must receive more than half their support from the student, but do not need to live with the student for the student to be considered independent.

Confusion often arises because of ambiguity in the statutory definition. In 20 USC 1087vv(k)(2), the term “dependent of the student” is defined as “the student’s dependent children and other persons (except the student’s spouse) who live with and receive more than one-half of their support from the student and will continue to receive more than half of their support from the student during the award year.” Some people incorrectly interpret the phrase “who live with” as attaching to both “the student’s dependent children” and “other persons”. However, it is clear from the similar language in the definition of “dependent of the parent” in 20 USC 1087vv(k)(1) that the phrase “who live with” attaches only to “other persons”.


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