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Marital Status on the FAFSA

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We hear a lot of questions about how to fill out the FAFSA. Student marital status is a less common area of confusion, but it's still an essential one to cover. 

The marital status of a student and their parents can affect the granted amount of need-based financial aid. Also, be careful to answer FAFSA questions about marital status correctly. Do not confuse the question about the student’s marital status with the one about the parent’s marital status.

Changes in Marital Status on the FAFSA

If a student will be married after filing the FAFSA, the marital status on the FAFSA must be reported as single, not married. Do not anticipate a future change in marital status. A student who is engaged to be married is not considered to be married. College financial aid administrators can ask for a copy of the marriage certificate to confirm the marriage.

The FAFSA cannot be updated to reflect a mid-year change in a student’s marital status, except in rare circumstances. Federal regulations provide college financial aid administrators with the authority to update the FAFSA to reflect a change in a student’s marital status. This is when they determine that it is necessary to “address an inequity or to reflect more accurately the applicant’s ability to pay.”

For example, some colleges will allow a change in the student’s marital status due to the death of the spouse, divorce or separation due to domestic violence, or an incarcerated or incapacitated spouse. Such changes are made on a case-by-case basis, subject to the discretion of the college financial aid administrator.

If a dependent student’s custodial parent remarries after the student files the FAFSA and the FAFSA is selected for verification, the household size and number in college data elements must be updated to include the new stepparent. The college financial aid administrator can use professional judgment to require the applicant to update the FAFSA to include the new stepparent’s income and assets.

Married or Remarried

If the marital status is married or remarried, information about the spouse’s income and assets is required, even if the marriage occurred after the end of the tax year of the FAFSA. The spouse’s income and assets must be reported, even if there is a prenuptial agreement.

Unmarried But Living Together

Legal parents who are unmarried but living together are treated as though they are married on the FAFSA. The determination of whether information from both parents is required on the FAFSA depends on the student’s relationship with the parents. If the parents are living together with the student, the income and assets of both parents must be reported, regardless of whether the parents are married, divorced, separated or never married.

Divorced or Separated

On the FAFSA, a separation can include an informal separation, not just a legal separation. Note that a couple cannot have an informal separation if they live together. Living on separate floors of the same house does not count as maintaining separate residences.

Living in temporary lodgings, such as a hotel room, does not count as maintaining separate permanent residences. For the parents to be considered to be separated, there must be no expectation of the spouse returning to the household.

If a student is separated but not divorced, the student is considered to be married with regard to the dependency status question, “As of today, are you married?”

Same-Sex Marriage

A couple in a same-sex marriage is considered to be married on the FAFSA if they were legally married in a state or country that permits same-sex marriage, regardless of where they live currently. The U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 26, 2015, in the Obergefell v. Hodges case makes same-sex marriage legal in all 50 U.S. states. Civil unions and domestic partnerships are not considered legally married on the FAFSA.

Spouse is Not a U.S. Citizen

An individual who is married to a foreign national is considered to be married on the FAFSA, even if the spouse is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (green card holder). This includes situations where a spouse is undocumented.

Marital Status on the FAFSA

This table shows how your parent’s marital status should be reported on the FAFSA in situations where the student’s parents do and do not live together.

marital status fafsa

Additional Advice on Completing the FAFSA

At Cappex, we have countless articles available to help you navigate the FAFSA and search for financial aid. We cover common myths that can cost you financial aid, how to apply for and get aid, how to bridge the gap between financial aid and tuition, and more. 

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