Parental Demographics Information | Step 7

Step #7 of the FAFSA Online Guide to the FAFSA Form tutorial follows. If you have not read through steps 1-6, we suggest you start with step #1. If you are ready to file your FAFSA form or Renewal FAFSA form online, then please click here.

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Before we begin, who is a parent?

Obviously, if you live at home with your married parents, they are your parents. That said, there can be tremendous variation in family structure that the FAFSA tries to take into account. Let's look at how the FAFSA judges who are the parents, in order of precedence:

  • If a parent is widowed or single, fill in the questions appropriately
  • A step-parent (after marriage) is considered a parent from a financial aid perspective
  • If the parents are divorced or separated, the parent is considered to be the one which the student lived with more (51% of the time or more) in the past 12 months
  • If the student did not live with either parent in a divorced/separated situation, the parent is the one who contributed more financial assistance (51% or more of financial support) in the past 12 months
  • If the student did not receive appreciably more support from one parent or another, the parent is the one who claims the student as a dependent on the IRS tax return
  • If a student has had no contact with their parents, they must file the FAFSA and designate a special circumstance in the student section of the FAFSA application
  • A foster parent, legal guardian, or a grandparent or other relative is not treated as a parent for the purpose of filing a FAFSA unless that person has legally adopted the applicant
  • An adoptive parent is treated in the same manner as a biological parent on the FAFSA

Finally, a formatting note - you'll know that you're answering questions in the parent section because the application will turn purple. Any answers you provide should be from the prospective of the parent, not the student.

Demographic information collection begins in a similar manner to the student's information.

Parental Demographics

FAFSA Form Help: Parent Demographics Information

On the question of marital status and date (second question on the page), this is the most recent status date. For example, if your parents were married and got divorced later, this is the date of the divorce. If your parents were married, divorced, remarried, and separated, this is the date of separation.

Note as well that these are legal statuses, which means that you will need legal proof of parental status if questions arise on your FAFSA filing. In cases of separation where a parent is missing or out of contact, the student typically must seek to get the parental rights of the absentee parent terminated in a court of law in order to have the absentee parent's information excluded from the FAFSA (to increase eligibility for aid or file as an independent student). The generally accepted standard for abandonment of a child as grounds for termination of parental rights is one year of no contact from the parent and one year of no financial or material support from the parent.

Make sure you accurately answer household size (use the calculator if you need to) and the number of people in the household attending college. These are both questions that can impact how much your parents are expected to contribute to your education. This can get tricky in cases where you have step-brothers and step-sisters.

For situations involving divorce, children from other marriages, etc., first establish who your parent is. Next, count the number of people who receive more than half of their support from your parent/stepparent even if they do not live with you, unless they can answer yes to the FAFSA dependency questions.

For more information on dependent vs. independent status, take our FAFSA dependency quiz.

For example, let's say that you live in a household with a parent, a step-parent, yourself, and a step-brother. The step-brother does not live with you but derives most of his support from your parent and step-parent. Your household size is 4.

Let's take the same example, but now say that your step-brother has children of his own. Because he has dependents of his own, he would be considered an independent student on the FAFSA even if he's not going to college. Thus your household size is 3.

>>Continue to Step 8: Parent Finances