Who Completes the FAFSA When a Student Lives with his Grandparents?

Mark Kantrowitz

January 14, 2013

My grandson lives with his grandfather and me. His parents do not support him other than providing medical insurance. He will claim himself on his 2012 income tax and his parents financials are not available to us. How do we handle completing the FAFSA and applying for scholarships, etc.? I am more than willing to provide our information if that is acceptable. — J.M.

Grandparents and other relatives may not substitute their information for the parent’s information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) unless they have legally adopted the student.

Generally, only biological and adoptive parents are responsible for completing the FAFSA.

In some cases a stepparent’s information will also be required on the FAFSA. If the student’s biological/adoptive parents are divorced, only the custodial parent is responsible for completing the FAFSA. (The custodial parent is the parent with whom the student lived the most during the 12 months ending on the FAFSA application date. If the student lived equally with both parents, it is the parent who provided the most support to the student.) If the custodial parent has remarried, the stepparent’s information must also be reported, but only so long as the stepparent is married to the custodial parent. If the custodial parent subsequently dies, the responsibility for completing the FAFSA shifts to the non-custodial parent and the stepparent’s income and asset information is no longer provided on the FAFSA. (The only exception is when the stepparent has adopted the student, which terminates the rights and responsibilities of the non-custodial parent.)

Foster parents, legal guardians and relatives of the student are not considered to be parents on the FAFSA.

Parent Information Is Not Required for Independent Students

If the student is considered independent, parental information is not required on the FAFSA.

If the student is an orphan (both parents dead), in foster care or a ward of the court at any time after reaching 13 years of age or older, the student is considered independent, even if the student is subsequently adopted. An incarcerated student is not considered a ward of the court. A student who is a ward of the court does not remain in the legal custody of the student’s parents.

A student who is an emancipated minor or in a legal guardianship prior to reaching the age of majority is considered to be independent. These statuses are prone to misinterpretation. The term “emancipation”, for example, is often used in reference to the termination of child support when a child reaches the age of majority (as opposed to prior to reaching the age of majority); such a child is not considered independent. The student’s status as an emancipated minor must have been ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction in the student’s state of legal residence. Likewise, the student’s placement in a legal guardianship must have been ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction in the student’s state of legal residence. The legal guardianship or emancipation must have been adjudicated by a court, not an attorney.

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