I am a single parent of three children. One is a junior in college,
the middle child will be attending college next year. I have always
completed the FAFSA for my oldest daughter, claiming her as my
dependent. Her father and and I have split the cost of out-of-pocket
expenses. This past year, however, her father took me back to court to
have her emancipated so that he no longer has to pay child support for
her. He is still being ordered by the court to split the uncovered
college expenses with me. Do I have my daughter complete her own FAFSA
this year, now that she has been emancipated by the court? On my son's
FAFSA, do I still claim that there will be two children in college at
the same time next year?
— Andrea T.
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The use of the word "emancipation" is confusing for many
families. Emancipation for child support purposes is not the same as
emancipation for federal student aid purposes. Emancipation means that
the child is no longer considered a minor. Emancipation can occur
by a child reaching the age of majority or by a court order
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granting the child adult status before
the child reaches the
age of majority. The former is often referred to as emancipation while
the latter is often referred to as an emancipated minor.
When a child's parents get divorced, child support obligations
continue until the child reaches the
age of majority
typically age 18 or 21. In some states this obligation will continue
until the child has graduated from high school or age 19. When the
child reaches the age of majority, a court order might be required to
terminate child support obligation. This court order might refer to
the child as emancipated, but that is not the same as an emancipated minor.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-315)
established a new way for a child to be considered an independent student, namely
as an emancipated minor. The specific language added to section
480(d)(1)(C) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 reads: "is, or was
immediately prior to attaining the age of majority, an emancipated
... as determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in
the individual’s State of legal residence." Note that the statutory
language refers to the student as an emancipated minor, and not merely
as emancipated. An emancipated minor is a child who has not yet
reached the age of majority but who has been granted adult status
early by a court. (In this case the status must be granted by a court
of competent jurisdiction in the child's state of residence.) This is
not the same as emancipation for child support purposes, where the
child becomes emancipated by reaching the age of majority.
Since your daughter is emancipated but not an emancipated minor, she
is still considered dependent for federal student aid purposes. You
must still complete the FAFSA for your daughter. Since you will
complete the FAFSA for your daughter, you may list both her and your son
as children in college on each of their FAFSAs.