2014-15 FAFSA Will Require Information On Legal Parents Who Live Together, Regardless Of Marital Status Or Gender

In a move toward greater equity and accuracy, the Department of Education (ED) has announced a major change to the 2014-15 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Parents’ marital status will no longer dictate whose information a dependent student must include on the FAFSA, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Monday during an invitation-only media call with NASFAA President Justin Draeger. Information from both parents will be required on the FAFSA, regardless of parents’ gender or marital status, if:

1. Both parents are legal parents, defined as biological or adoptive parents; and

2. The student’s legal parents live together.

Because unmarried parents may be of the opposite sex or of the same sex, when the response to the parents’ marital status question is “unmarried and both parents living together,” follow-up FAFSA questions will refer to the parents as “Parent 1 (father/mother)” and “Parent 2 (father/mother)” or simply “parents.”   This is a shift from the gender-specific “mother” and “father” options currently available.

“This will result in fairer treatment of all families by eliminating long-standing inequities based on parents’ relationship with each other, instead of their relationship with their child,” Duncan said during the call.

Independent students are not affected by this change, unless they, for non-federal student aid purposes, choose to provide parental information on their FAFSA.

ED has informed NASFAA that this guidance does not affect the definition of an eligible borrower in the PLUS program. Under 685.200(c)(2), an eligible parent borrower is a student's biological or adoptive mother or father or the student’s stepparent, if the biological parent or adoptive mother or father has remarried at the time of application.

NASFAA’s Draeger hailed the change as a positive step for both the simplicity and integrity of the federal aid process. Draeger noted that by more accurately capturing what families headed by two unmarried parents can pay—or by two parents whose marriage is not recognized under the federal Defense of Marriage Act— we continue to emphasize that the primary responsibility to pay for college rests first with the family. At many schools that use Institutional Methodology (IM), this practice has already been adopted, he added.  

“As stewards of federal funds and as student advocates who work daily with over 15 million student aid recipients, financial aid administrators have been urging our federal system to keep up,” Draeger said. “There’s still more we can do—particularly for students who are considered dependent even though they are in a same-sex marriage and same-sex parents who have not technically adopted a student even though they are clearly part of a household—but those changes may require changes to federal law.”

“We applaud the U.S. Department of Education for making changes that are within their purview to make this process more simple and equitable for students,” Draeger added.

GEN-13-12 includes more details about the change, including a reference chart illustrating those family structures that will be impacted and an extensive list of Q&As.

On or about May 1, 2013, ED will publish a draft of the 2014-2015 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in the Federal Register for public comment. NASFAA will announce the availability of the draft 2014-15 FAFSA in Today’s News and we encourage you to submit your comments on the FAFSA to ED and send a copy to NASFAA

 

Publication Date: 4/30/2013


Kathleen B | 5/13/2013 12:50:37 AM

For independent students there is often an inequity for unmarried applicants who are not married but cohabitate with their significant other and many times have children together. Currently they do not have to report the significant other's income because that person is not considered a spouse unless the couple are in a common law marriage. Will this concept be extended beyond dependent applicants whose parents live together but are not married to indendent students' family unit where they live together but are not married so that all household income is considered in determining their aid eligibility?

Laura M | 5/6/2013 12:7:56 PM

So if I am reading this right, same sex and unmarried heterosexual couples can now add the other "parent's" income if they are legally considered a parent (by means other than marriage), but the additional person cannot borrow a PLUS loan to help the student.

Brad H | 4/30/2013 10:55:53 PM

I am extremely disappointed in Justin's comments as they represent NASFAA and me as a member. He states this change more accurately reflects the ability to pay for education for a child from two same sex parents when current law under DOMA penalizes these very same families and costs these families more. Benefits from many federal programs are not extended to the spouse of these families. Tax laws are not equitable for these families either. This proposed change and the support of NASFAA seems premature until DOMA is struct down as unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. If DOMA is not overturned, NASFAA would be endorsing discriminatory policies and pre civil rights bigotry.

Joseph K | 4/30/2013 5:22:28 PM

I hope careful consideration will be given to updating the IRS retrieval tool to import data for multiple parental tax filers. Otherwise dependent students who currently imported one parent's info will need to travel the tax transcript pathway for both of their parents at the time of verification.

Marie B | 4/30/2013 1:13:31 PM

will the feds alert all current dependents reporting only one parent of this change and the possible impact on their eligibility? What are plans for training/informing high schools of the change?

David S | 4/30/2013 12:36:53 PM

In addition to the blatant inequity of requiring information from both parents in an unrecognized marriage, what also disturbs me is that there was no legislative action that triggered this off. Similar to ED ramping up the SAP requirements a few years ago, this is regulating beyond the law.

I do not agree with Justin that this simplifies the process...the same-sex part adds to the labyrinth of "which way is it for this form?" complexity that same-sex couples face, and the unmarried parents part of it will be impossible to verify unless we now have to start verifying place of residence along with income, etc. I am disappointed that NASFAA gave this such an immediate and resounding endorsement, and as Jeff Baker will be at EASFAA next week, well, hope you're ready for some very direct questions, Jeff.

Kelly R | 4/30/2013 11:33:03 AM

This could really get interesting for the common law and community property states.

Kenneth C | 4/30/2013 10:42:07 AM

In reading the FAQ provided by the DOE I found an answer to one of my questions:


Q9. Will information about a stepparent continue to be used in the calculation of a dependent student’s EFC?

A9. Yes. The HEA provides that when a dependent student’s parent is married to a person who is not the student’s legal parent the stepparent’s information is used in the EFC calculation [see HEA section 475(f)(3)].

Kenneth C | 4/30/2013 10:27:14 AM

Sharree,

I agree that's what it seems to be saying, but once they define what a legal parent is it will raise that question. I believe they will have to define legal parent for FSA purposes as including step-parent. That's just my thought on the matter. Then the question becomes, though, what if the biological parent is then deceased, would the student still have to list the step-parent? I believe they shouldn't have two different definitions of legal parent that depends upon the marital status of the parent, when they are specifically stating the intention is to not allow marital status to dictate the parent's information. That could just be stated incorrectly, though. All of this is supposition until a NPRM is issued.

Patricia P | 4/30/2013 10:18:43 AM

Thank you, this has been a long time coming & finally closes that loop hole. Hopefully this will save some precious tax payer dollars.

Sheree B | 4/30/2013 10:12:04 AM

Kenneth,

The question only applies if the parents are unmarried and living together. A stepparent would be married to the parent, so the question would not apply in that instance.

Kenneth C | 4/30/2013 10:5:20 AM

Will this change the way a step-parent is reported on the FAFSA? The statement above implies that the parent listed must be a legal parent, but a step-parent is technically not the legal parent of a child unless that child is adopted (to my understanding of the definition of legal-parent). I doubt the intent is to remove the step-parent's income as a factor, but it strikes me as a bit confusing. I'm sure more information will be forthcoming. What will define "legal-parent"? Is this a definition that will be defined by the Department of Education or does this fall back to the state definition of legal parent, which is usually either defined in that state's constitution or in its legislation. It may even be defined by court decisions. I think this is a move in the right direction, but there are many hurdles to overcome. I'm looking forwards to the official regulations.

Claire A | 4/30/2013 9:52:19 AM

This is absolutely wrong. With DOMA, the feds are, in essence, saying that families headed by same-sexed parents are not families. So, if they are not a familiy, ten why should both incomes count and penalize the student? Sounds like the federal government is trying to "have their cake and eat it too". Can't have it both ways.

Kathy E | 4/30/2013 9:31:39 AM

It's about time. Thank you.

Jess B | 4/30/2013 9:29:35 AM

The collection of information from both of a dependent student’s parents is statutorily supported in the section of the Higher Education Act (HEA) that provides the information to be used in the calculation of a dependent student’s expected family contribution (EFC). HEA section 475 includes the terms “parent” and “parents’” and not gender specific terms such as “mother” and “father”.

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