When filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), students need to provide information on their parents' income and assets. That may sound simple enough to some, but many families are unique—including who their "parents" may be.
Reporting incorrect parental information on the FAFSA can hold up the student's financial aid award. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education has clear guidelines on which parent (or parents) to include on the FAFSA. Let's go through these.
No Parents Needed
For financial aid purposes, students are either "independent" or "dependent" of their parents. There are distinct guidelines for each—you can learn about them here. But in short, independent students never have to provide parental information on the FAFSA, while dependent students almost always have to.
Which Parent(s) To Include On The FAFSA
The Department of Education defines a "parent" as a biological or adoptive parent, or a person who the state determines to be the parent (i.e., listed on the birth certificate). However, your dependent students may not need to include you on their FAFSA.
If you don't live with your child's other biological or adoptive parent, aren't married to one another, or are married (but to other people), you may not need to report your income and asset information. Here's who needs to be included and when:
Both Legal Parents
Students must report both of their parents' information when they are married to each other or are not married to each other but are living together.
Only One Parent
When parents don't live together, students should include only the parent they lived with the most in the last 12 months on the FAFSA. If they spent time with both parents equally, they should list the one who provided more financial support in the last 12 months or the most recent year.
If the parent who lived with the student the most in the last 12 months remarries, the student should include the new stepparent's information on the FAFSA—instead of the other legal parent. Students only need to do this if their parent and stepparent were married as of the date the FAFSA was completed.
Same-sex parents are treated the same as opposite-sex parents. Same-sex parents—whether married or not— should report their information on the FAFSA if they live together with the student. Legally married same-sex stepparents who lived with the student most of the last 12 months should also be reported on the FAFSA.
Whom To Not Report
Other family members or anyone who has not legally adopted the student do not need to report their information on the FAFSA. The exception to this is a stepparent married to the parent who lives with the student the most.
Some students may live with grandparents, other family members, or other individuals who have not adopted them. These students should not list information for the person they live with; they must provide their legal parents' information. If there is a unique situation where the student can’t get the parents' information, the student should speak with the financial aid office to see what other options there are.