Must the Student's Child Live with the Student for the Student to be Independent?
November 05, 2012
Page AVG-23 of the 2012-13 Application and Verification Guide clarifies this by repeating the half-support requirement for both children and other persons and by not repeating the live-with requirement. The Application and Verification Guide is a source of subregulatory guidance from the US Department of Education to college financial aid administrators.
“Children and legal dependents (50 and 51). Students who have legal dependents are independent. Legal dependents comprise children (including those who will be born before the end of the award year) of the student who receive more than half their support from the student, and other persons (except a spouse) who live with and receive more than half their support from the student as of the FAFSA signing date and will continue to do so for the award year. The same criteria apply to household size.”
Even so, there is still some confusion, so further guidance on page AVG-30 explicitly states in a discussion of household size for independent students that the children do not need to live with the student.
“The student’s children, regardless of where they live, if they will receive more than half of their support from the student from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013. This includes the student’s unborn children who will be born during the award year and will receive more than half their support from the student from birth to the end of the award year. Foster children do not count in household size.”
Moreover, page AVG-25 gives a clear example in the context of a discussion of sources of support. For the purpose of the half-support requirement, support includes any cash or other assistance provided to the child from sources other than the student’s parents. This includes child support and government benefit programs, such as TANF and SNAP, not just support provided by the student. The example highlights a common scenario in which both the child’s mother and father can each be dependent by virtue of having a dependent child.
“For example, if a student who lives alone with her child receives cash from her boyfriend that amounts to more than 50% support for her child, then she would be able to count the child as a dependent and in her household size, and she would be independent. If the boyfriend is the father of the child and a student himself, then he would also be able to count the child as a dependent and in his household size, and he would be independent too.”
Sometimes front-office financial aid staff are unaware of these nuances, and insist that the child is presumed to be a dependent of the mother and that the father must rebut that presumption. They also insist that the child can be a dependent of either the mother or father, but not both. They sometimes also insist that the child must live with the father to be a dependent of the father. There is no such presumption in the statute, regulations or subregulatory guidance. The child does not need to live with the father to be a dependent of the father, and the child can be counted as a dependent of the father and also as a dependent of the mother.