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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.
Depending on the circumstances, sometimes a college financial aid administrator will grant the student a dependency override. For example, the college financial aid administrator might grant a dependency override to a student who is living with his grandparents if both of his parents are incarcerated or institutionalized or if there are court protection from abuse orders against both parents. The financial aid administrator may also grant a dependency override in cases involving abandonment, where the student has not had any financial support or significant contact with both parents for an extended period of time. Abandonment is often used as grounds for a dependency override when the custodial parent dies and the student continues to live with the stepparent, and the student hasn't had any contact with or support from the non-custodial parent for more than a year. College financial aid administrators cannot grant a dependency override just because the parents refuse to complete financial aid forms or verification, the parents refuse to support the student, the student demonstrates total self-sufficiency and/or the parents don't claim the student as an exemption on their income tax returns. Before granting a dependency override, the college financial aid administrator will want to have documentation of the unusual circumstances, including as letters from independent third parties who are familiar with the student's situation, such as letters from guidance counselors, doctors, clergy, social workers, government agencies and/or the court.
Reporting Cash Support to the Student
Cash support that the student receives from anybody other than the student's parents (as listed on the FAFSA) must be reported on the FAFSA as untaxed income to the student. Cash support includes not just money given to the student and loans, but also money paid to someone else on behalf of the student. Cash support can include food, clothing, housing, car payments, medical and dental care, insurance and college costs. For example, if a student is living with his grandparents, the support they provide to the student must be reported as untaxed income to the student on the student's FAFSA. Likewise, if the stepparent is no longer married to the student's custodial parent but continues to support the student, the support must be reported as untaxed income to the student.