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    Which Parent Should I Use on the FAFSA?

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    Reviewed by Annie Trout

    Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: April 18th, 2024
    Which Parent Should I Use on the FAFSA?

    Students often have varying situations when it comes to parents. For example, if your divorced parents live separately, you may wonder “which parent should I use when I fill out the FAFSA?” The Department of Education has specific requirements for a variety of circumstances. Continue reading to learn more about how to fill out the parent information on the FAFSA!

    Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool

    When do you need your parents’ information?

    Students who fit the definition of dependent should include their parents’ information when filling out the FAFSA. According to the Department of Education, a dependent student would NOT fit ANY of the criteria of an independent student. The independent student criteria are:

    • At least 24 years old
    • Married
    • A graduate or professional student 
    • A veteran
    • A member of the armed forces
    • An orphan
    • A ward of the court
    • Someone with legal dependents other than a spouse
    • An emancipated minor
    • Someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

     A student who fits any of these criteria may be an independent student and be exempt from providing parent information on their FAFSA. It’s important to note that all contributors (both you and your parents if dependent) need to have a StudentAid.gov account and give their consent and approval in order for the FAFSA to be completed. 

    Related: How to become an independent student if under 24

    Who is considered a parent?

    For FAFSA purposes, the parents listed must be your legal parent or stepparent, biologically or by adoption. The following are NOT your parent unless they have legally adopted you: 

    • Widowed stepparent
    • Grandparents
    • Foster parents
    • Siblings
    • Aunts or uncles

    Students must report information about their legal parents if they live with someone other than them.

    Married parents

    For married parents, answer the FAFSA questions about both of them.

    Note that the questions about each parent are gender neutral on the FAFSA. The gender of your parents and the order you list them does not matter.

    Divorced or separated parents

    The way a student reports their divorced or separated parents’ information depends on whether the parents live together and/or the parent with whom the student lives.

    The Department of Education considers parents separated if they are legally separated by the state or if they are legally married but live separate lives as though they were not married.

    Parents who live together

    For unmarried parents who live together, report information for both parents on the FAFSA. 

    Divorced parents that live together should list their marital status as “unmarried and both legal parents living together.” Separated parents that live together should list their marital status as “married or remarried,” NOT “divorced or separated.”

    Parents who live separately

    Students with divorced or separated parents that do not live together should provide information on the one parent they have lived with more over the past 12 months. If there is not a parent you lived with more, report information for the parent who provided you with more financial support over the past year.

    Remarried parents

    Include information about the stepparent who is married to the parent whose information is reported on the FAFSA. The exception to this is the parents’ education level. For this question, list the education level of your birth or adoptive parents.

    Providing information about your stepparent will give a fuller picture of your family’s financial situation.

    Related: Filling out the FAFSA with divorced parents

    Undocumented parents

    The FAFSA does not ask about your parents’ citizenship status, and their status does not affect the student’s eligibility for financial aid. However, there are a few pieces of advice to note for students with undocumented parents:

    • If your parent doesn’t have a Social Security number, enter all 0s.
    • Parents without a Social Security number will not be able to make an FSA ID to electronically sign the FAFSA. Instead, print the page, have the parent sign it, and mail it to the address indicated.
    • If your parents live and file taxes in a foreign country and don’t file U.S. taxes, there will be a chance to indicate that they have filed their taxes.

    Also see: How to fill out the FAFSA if your parents didn’t file income taxes

    Parents who are unwilling to provide FAFSA information

    Some students’ parents are unwilling to assist them with the FAFSA. If this is the case, and you don’t have a special circumstance, you can still fill out the form. When asked to provide your parents’ information on the FAFSA, select “I am unable to provide information about my parent(s).” The FAFSA will provide you with a list of special circumstances. Select the option that indicates you don’t have a special circumstance, but still can’t provide the information. 

    The colleges you list receive the FAFSA, but you will not receive a Student Aid Index (SAI). The school uses this number to determine your aid eligibility. You should contact your school’s financial aid office to discuss the possibility of receiving federal aid. The school may ask for written statements detailing your parents’ unwillingness to provide support.

    Related: What to do if your parents are unwilling to pay for college or fill out the FAFSA

    Special circumstances

    These are the special circumstances that may allow a student to submit their FAFSA without parent information despite being a dependent:

    • Student has left home due to an abusive environment 
    • Incarcerated parents
    • Student does not know where their parents are and is unable to contact them (and has not been adopted)
    • Student is older than 21 but not yet 24, is unaccompanied and is homeless or self-supporting and at risk of becoming homeless. 

    Also see: Am I a dependent or independent student?

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Dependent students must report parental income on the FAFSA
    • Students with married parents will report both of their income
    • If your parents are divorced or separated, you’ll report the income of the parent you lived with for the longest time over the last year
    • If the parent you are reporting has remarried, you must report their spouse’s income as well
    Key Takeaways

    Frequently asked questions about which  parent to use on the FAFSA

    Do I include my stepparent on the FAFSA?

    If your parents are divorced or separated, you’ll report the income of the parent you lived with for the longest time over the past year. If that parent has remarried, you have to report their spouse’s income. So, you’ll have to include your stepparent’s income if they are part of the household you are reporting.

    Do I have to report my stepfather's income on the FAFSA?

    You’ll have to report your stepfather’s income on the FAFSA if he is part of the household you are reporting income data for. But remember, you’ll only have to report income from one of your parents; the other will be exempt.

    Does FAFSA use both parents' income?

    FAFSA uses both parents’ income if they are married. If they are separated or divorced, you’ll only use data from the household where you spent the most time living over the past year. If the parent in that household has remarried, you’ll have to report their spouse’s income as well.

    What does a ‘contributor’ mean on the FAFSA?

    For the updated FAFSA, anyone who contributes their information will be considered a contributor. It’s a new term that includes you, your spouse, parents (adoptive or biological), and your parent’s spouse. The same rules apply as unless you are legally adopted, grandparents, foster parents, legal guardians, siblings, and aunts and uncles are not considered contributors.

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