If you are considered a dependent student for FAFSA® purposes, you will need to provide information about your legal parent(s) on the application. A legal parent is your biological or adoptive parent, or your legal parent as determined by the state (for example, if the parent is listed on your birth certificate). If you have a stepparent currently married to your legal parent, you generally also must provide information about him or her.
Who is my parent according to the FAFSA® form?
What if my parents are divorced or separated?
Divorced or Separated Parents Who Do Not Live Together
Divorced or Separated Parents Who Live Together
What if I have a stepparent?
What if my stepparent is widowed?
What if my parents are in a same-sex marriage?
What if I live with someone other than my parents?
What kind of information must my parents provide for the FAFSA® form?
What if I'm unable to provide parent information due to special circumstances?
What if my parents are unwilling to provide their information on my FAFSA® form?
What if my parents are concerned about providing their information because of their citizenship status?
How should we report information about my noncitizen parents on my FAFSA® form?
If you need to report parent information, here are some guidelines to help you:
- If your legal parents (your biological and/or adoptive parents, or parents as determined by the state [e.g., a parent listed on your birth certificate]) are married to each other, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
- If your legal parents are not married to each other and live together, answer the questions about both of them, regardless of whether your parents are of the same or opposite sex.
- If your legal parent is widowed or was never married, answer the questions about that parent.
In this case, how you fill out the FAFSA form depends on whether your parents live together or not.
Keep the following in mind as you read this section:
- For FAFSA purposes, your married parents are separated if they are considered legally separated by a state, or if they are legally married but have chosen to live separate lives, including living in separate households, as though they were not married.
- When two married persons live as a married couple but are separated by physical distance (or have separate households), they are considered married for FAFSA purposes.
If your parents are divorced or separated and don’t live together, answer the questions about the parent with whom you lived more during the past 12 months.
If you lived the same amount of time with each divorced or separated parent, give answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months or during the most recent 12 months that you actually received support from a parent.
If your divorced parents live together, you’ll indicate their marital status as “Unmarried and both legal parents living together,” and you will answer questions about both of them on the FAFSA form.
If your separated parents live together, you’ll indicate their marital status as “Married or remarried” (NOT “Divorced or separated”), and you will answer questions about both of them on the FAFSA form.
If you have a stepparent who is married to the legal parent whose information you’re reporting, you must provide information about that stepparent as well.
EXCEPTION: The FAFSA form asks about your parents’ education level. For these two questions, your parents are considered to be your birth parents or adoptive parents—your stepparent is not your parent in these questions.
Including your stepparent’s information on the FAFSA form helps create an accurate picture of your family’s total financial strength.
If your stepparent was married to your parent but is now widowed, that stepparent doesn’t count as a parent on your FAFSA form unless he or she has legally adopted you.
Same-sex couples must report their marital status as married if they were legally married in a state or other jurisdiction (foreign country), without regard to where they live or where the student will be going to school.
The FAFSA questions use gender-neutral terminology for married parents (“Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)” and “Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)” instead of “mother” and “father”). It does not matter which parent completes which set of questions.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t live with your parent or parents; you still must report information about them. The following people are not your parents unless they have legally adopted you: grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, older brothers or sisters, uncles or aunts, and widowed stepparents.
For each parent, you’ll report similar information to that you report for yourself: basic information about your parent’s identity (e.g., name, date of birth, and Social Security number—if he or she has one); living situation (e.g., marital status, state of residence, household size); and financial circumstances (e.g., tax information, certain assets, certain untaxed income). Learn more about the types of information you and your parents will report on the FAFSA form.
In situations such as the ones below, you may be able to submit your FAFSA form without parent information despite being considered a dependent student:
- Your parents are incarcerated.
- You have left home due to an abusive family environment.
- You do not know where your parents are and are unable to contact them (and you have not been adopted).
- You are older than 21 but not yet 24, are unaccompanied, and are either homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.
The online FAFSA form will ask you whether you are able to provide information about your parents. If you are not, you will have the option to indicate that you have special circumstances that make you unable to get your parents’ information. The site then allows you to submit your application without entering data about your parents.
However, it is important for you to understand the following:
- Although your FAFSA form will be submitted, it will not be fully processed. You will not receive an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and must immediately contact the financial aid office at the college or career school you plan to attend.
- The financial aid staff may ask for additional information to determine whether you can be considered independent and have an EFC calculated without parent data. Gather as much written evidence of your situation as you can. Written evidence may include court or law enforcement documents; letters from a clergy member, school counselor or social worker; and/or any other relevant data that explains your special circumstance.
- The financial aid office’s decision about your dependency status is final and cannot be appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.
You can’t be considered independent of your parents just because they refuse to help you with the FAFSA form. Still, we do understand that in some cases, the parents are not supporting the dependent student at all and refuse to provide their information on the student’s application. If you’re in that situation, here’s the process:
- When the FAFSA form asks you whether you are able to provide information about your parents, say no. (Note: This option is not available on the FAFSA PDF.)
- On the next screen, select the option that says you don’t have a special circumstance but you still can’t provide parent information.
- The FAFSA site explains that if your parents don’t support you and refuse to provide their information on the application, you may submit your FAFSA form without their information. However, you won’t be able to get any federal student aid other than an unsubsidized loan—and even that might not happen. The decision is up to the financial aid office at the college or career school you plan to attend. If you agree to this, you may submit your FAFSA form without parent information.
- Your FAFSA information will be sent to the colleges you list, but you won’t get an EFC.
- You must immediately contact your school’s financial aid office to discuss the possibility of getting an unsubsidized loan. The financial aid office may ask for a written statement from your parents, indicating that they refuse to provide their information on the FAFSA form and that they no longer support you. (Forms of support include allowing you to live in their home, including you on their car or health insurance, providing a car to drive on a regular basis, and payment of your tuition or fees.)
- The financial aid office will look at your situation and decide whether you may receive an unsubsidized loan. That decision is final and cannot be appealed to the U.S. Department of Education.
If you’re considering following this process, think about this first: If you submit your FAFSA form without parent information, you will not receive an EFC. Some state- or school-based aid programs look at the EFC in order to determine your eligibility for their funds; because you won’t have an EFC, you won’t be considered for those aid programs. You could be giving up a chance at many sources of aid. So encourage your parents to provide their information—doing so won’t require them to support you in any way, it’ll just help you be considered for as many sources of financial aid as possible.
What if my parents are concerned about providing their information because of their citizenship status?
Your parents’ citizenship status does not affect your eligibility for federal student aid. In fact, the FAFSA form doesn’t even ask about your parents’ status.
Here are some tips for students with noncitizen parents:
- If your parent does not have a Social Security number (SSN), you should enter all zeroes for him or her on the FAFSA form where it asks for that information. Do NOT enter a Taxpayer Identification Number in the SSN field.
- If your parent doesn’t have an SSN, he or she won’t be able to create an FSA ID (which requires an SSN) and therefore won’t be able to sign your FAFSA form electronically. You’ll need to select the option to print a signature page when you get to the end of the application. Print the page, have your parent sign it, and then mail it to the address indicated so that your FAFSA form can be processed.
- If your parent doesn’t live in the U.S., select “Foreign Country” from the dropdown box for the question “What is your parents’ state of legal residence?”
- If your parents live and file taxes in a foreign country and don’t file U.S. taxes, you’ll have the opportunity to indicate that they have filed their taxes.
- Then, when the FAFSA form asks what type of tax return they filed, you should select “Foreign tax return.”
- Convert the amounts on the foreign tax return into U.S. dollars as directed by the FAFSA help and hints.
- If your parents live in one of the Freely Associated States, they should enter the Amount of Wages Earned from their Freely Associated States tax form in the field where the FAFSA form asks for adjusted gross income.
- If your parent doesn’t file taxes at all, select “Not going to file” for the question that asks whether the parent(s) have filed taxes. Then you’ll be asked for information about how much your parent earned from work, rather than being asked for information about specific items on the tax form.