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In a Same-Sex Marriage? How Your FAFSA Will Change in 2014

Mar 26, 2014 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

In 2013, the Supreme Court invalidated a major part of the Defense of Marriage Act. Along with this decision came new ways same-sex marriages are treated on the FAFSA, or application for federal student aid. In the past, those in same-sex marriages were treated as though they were not married; under new rules, however, same-sex marriages are treated the same as opposite-sex couples. Here are a few frequently-asked questions about the changes.

My state doesn’t recognize gay marriage. How will that affect my application?

As of this writing, different states treat same-sex marriages differently. Our country currently has a mosaic of different rules depending on the state you’re in; some states allow gay marriage, some allow only domestic partnerships, and many do not recognize same-sex marriage at all.

However, this won’t matter on the FAFSA. Under the new rules, same-sex couples are treated the same as heterosexual couples regardless of where they live. The FAFSA already refers to parents in a gender-neutral manner for the 2014-2015 school year.

The one caveat is that you have to be legally married to be able to list your same-sex spouse on your FAFSA. This means that the FAFSA may not recognize marriage ceremonies performed in states where same-sex marriage is not considered legal.

Will this policy improve my access to federal student aid?

This policy applies to both same-sex couples applying for financial aid themselves, and for those putting their children through college. Ironically, it could have the effect of making less overall aid available for many people. That’s because applicants in same-sex marriages will have to list their spouses’ income on the FAFSA, and have it count toward their total household income.

In the past, students with parents in same-sex marriages had to list their parents as divorced on the FAFSA, and list the income of only one parent. Those who were in same-sex marriages themselves were required not to list their spouses on the application. This meant that often their household income looked smaller, and they were eligible for more federal aid.

The new regulations may make some students eligible for more aid, however. Listing an additional member of your household can also have a small increase effect on your aid. How it plays out will vary from person to person depending on your income situation, family size, and other factors.

I already filled out my FAFSA without listing my same-sex marriage. What should I do?

If you have already filled out your FAFSA for the current academic year, you can file a correction and have your student aid adjusted for the 2014-2015 academic year.

I am under 24 and in a same-sex marriage. Can I be listed as independent?

Under the old rules, people in opposite-sex marriages who were under the age of 24 were considered independent of their parents. This is a benefit to many students, who qualify for more student aid without having to list their parents’ incomes. After the new rule change, this benefit will also extend to same-sex couples.

Generally, the new rules could spell less access to federal funds for traditional and accredited online school for some couples and families—but they could also improve eligibility for others. The change may wind up having the most impact on students in same-sex marriages who are under the age of 24, as it makes them eligible to claim independent status from their parents. In the past, students in same sex marriages were required to select “single” on the FAFSA even if they were married in one of the states in which gay marriage is legal.


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