How Should Parents In a Common Law Marriage Report Marital Status On the FAFSA?

Award Year: 2024-25 KA-36787 Helpfulness Rating 915 page views

This guidance is specific to the 2024-25 award year and later. For 2023-24* award year guidance see AskRegs Q&A, How Should Parents In a Common Law Marriage Report Marital Status On the FAFSA?

Scenario: I have a family that submitted the FAFSA and is confused about if they completed the FAFSA correctly. The mom and her boyfriend have lived together for 10 years, but they are not legally married. They only put the mom and daughter on the FAFSA, and did not include him in the family size because they could not answer the marital status question on the FAFSA.

Answer: Effective with the 2024-25 award year, the parent with whom the student lived the most in the past 12 months prior to filing the FAFSA is no longer a criterion for divorced or separated parents. The income and assets are reported for the parent who provides the most financial support over the 12 months prior to filing the FAFSA even if the student does not live with that parent or lives with the other parent. For example, if the student's biological father provides the most financial support to the student over 12 months prior to complete the FAFSA, then only the father's information is reported on the FAFSA even if the student does not live with the father.  The parent is self-reported on the FAFSA by the parent, and unless there is conflicting information, there is currently no requirement to verify or otherwise confirm which parent provides the greater portion of support.

If the mother is the parent who provided the most financial support over the 12 months prior to filing the FAFSA then her information is reported. Assuming that the mom's boyfriend is not the student's biological or adoptive parent, whether or not the boyfriend is included on the FAFSA depends on whether the "mom and her boyfriend" meet the state's definition of a common-law marriage, so they will need to check with their state agency to find out if they are considered married by common law. If the mother is considered to be in a common law marriage with the boyfriend and if they are in the common law marriage at the time the FAFSA is completed, the boyfriend's/common law spouse's information must also be included on the FAFSA. 

According to guidance NASFAA has received from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), for Title IV purposes, recognition of a common-law marriage depends upon the student's state of residence when completing the FAFSA. If, in this scenario,  the parent's state of residence permits common-law marriage within the state itself, or recognizes a valid common-law marriage from another state, the mother in this situation is married when completing the FAFSA. If the parent is in a common-law marriage in one state and then moves to another state that does not allow common-law marriage and does not recognize common-law marriage from another state, then the parent is not married when completing the FAFSA.

Only a few states currently permit common-law marriage within the state. Most, if not all, states recognize a common-law marriage that was valid in another state. However, the recognition of common-law marriage in one state does not necessarily carry over to other states that do not recognize common-law marriages. Any questions regarding whether a state permits or recognizes a common-law marriage should be referred to the appropriate state agency.

"Common-law marriage" in Chapter 2 of the Application and Verification Guide of the  FSA Handbook states if a couple lives together and has not been formally married but meets the criteria in their state for a common-law marriage, they should be reported as married on the FAFSA. If the state doesn’t consider their situation to be a common-law marriage, then they aren’t married. According to GEN-13-12, if both biological or adoptive parents live together and are not considered to be in a common law marriage, both parents are required to provide their information on the FAFSA and for verification.

That having been said, if the financial aid administrator (FAA) feels that special circumstances exist, he or she may exercise professional judgment (PJ) to adjust the FAFSA data elements (such as income, asset, and family size, but NOT the marital status) used to calculate the student aid index (SAI) on a case-by-case basis to account for those exceptional circumstances. The FAA should be sure to thoroughly document the student's file with the special circumstances and his or her reasons for exercising PJ in each case.

See the AskRegs Knowledgebase Q&A, Who Is the Parent Of Record On the FAFSA Starting In 2024-25?

Student Aid Reference Desk: For additional information, try the Student Aid Reference Desk. It is a central hub of all the important financial aid resources you need with direct links to legislation, regulation, Dear Colleague Letters, and other ED and NASFAA references. It is updated on a rolling basis with the latest news and changes. Search Professional Judgment.

AskRegs Q&As represent NASFAA's understanding of regulatory and compliance issues. They are FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY. While NASFAA believes AskRegs Q&As are accurate and factual, they have not been reviewed or approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). If you should need written confirmation of AskRegs information for audit or program review purposes, please contact your ED School Participation Division. NASFAA shall not be liable for technical or editorial errors or omissions contained herein; nor for incidental or consequential damages resulting from the furnishing, performance, or use of this material.