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How Having Same-Sex Parents (Or a Same-Sex Spouse) Affects Your Financial Aid

Feb 27, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Filling out the FAFSA isn’t exactly a walk in the park for anyone—but it’s especially thorny when you’re a member of an LGBT family. Since 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has defined marriage as legal only between a man and a woman, even if same-sex marriages are legal in some states. This has an impact on your federal student aid form, as the federal government does not recognize same-sex unions for federal aid purposes. This can work against you—but it can also benefit you, depending on the circumstances.

Most children of same-sex couples are considered to have only one parent

That’s even if your parents are married under state law. Technically, either your biological or adoptive parent is considered your parent under the FAFSA, and should be the one to fill out the form. If your parents are divorced, the person you lived with the most during the designated 12-month period—or, if you split your time equally, the one who paid the most in support—is the one expected to fill out the FAFSA.

If your biological or adoptive parent has remarried, the step-parent’s assets are usually counted on the FAFSA—but not if the parent’s second marriage is same-sex. In these cases, the situation can benefit children of same-sex couples.

In some circumstances, however, the FAFSA will recognize two parents of the same sex. For example, if one of your parents is the biological parent, but the other has legally adopted you—or if both have adopted you together. If this is the case, the FAFSA considers your family as if your parents are divorced.  Since your parents are together and you lived with both of them equally over the past year, the person who provided the most support—the one who makes the most money—is the one who fills out the FAFSA. This can be a less disadvantageous situation for children of same-sex parents.

Gay Marriage

The FAFSA is complicated for everyone—but particularly those from same-sex families.



Both parents’ incomes are still counted—sometimes

The second parent, the one who makes less money, is usually not included in the household unless this person is also dependent on the parent who completes the FAFSA—receiving more than half of their financial support from this person. 

While you don’t report the second parent’s earnings and assets, any support this parent provides for you is counted as untaxed income on the FAFSA. So you’re still reporting it.

Your parents’ other children may be counted—or not

Your parents’ other children may be counted in your household size only if the parent who is completing the FAFSA for you is also their biological or adoptive parent, or if they live with this person and receive more than half of their financial support from them.

Students in same-sex marriages aren’t married

Under the FAFSA, same-sex marriages are not recognized. If you are filling out the FAFSA for yourself as a member of a same-sex marriage, the FAFSA will consider you single. Your spouse’s income and assets are not reported—but if you receive financial support from your spouse, it’s counted as untaxed income. 

You can’t count your spouse in your household size unless the spouse lives with you and receives more than half of his or her financial support from you. And your children may only be counted if you are their biological or adoptive parent, or if they are dependent on you for more than half of their financial support.

You may not be considered an independent

Students who are under the age of 24 are usually considered dependent on their parents for financial support and must provide their parents’ financial aid information—even if their parents have refused to pay for college. There are exceptions to this rule, however—and one of these is marriage. If you are under the age of 24 and married, you may fill out the FAFSA as an independent student.

This isn’t true for students in same-sex marriages, however. If you do not meet any of the other qualifications for independence—these can be found on* —you may be considered a dependent of your parents, and you may need them to fill out the FAFSA for you.

Some colleges may provide dependency overrides in special situations—and if your parents will not help you fill out the FAFSA, this may be one of them. However, this is by no means guaranteed.

The FAFSA is complicated for everyone—but particularly those from same-sex families. The form was generally not designed to accommodate every form a family may take in the US, and some students lose out on funds because of it. However, some benefit from the rules.


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