Dependency Overrides: Special Circumstances

In extreme cases, dependent students can appeal their FAFSA® dependency status through the financial aid office at the school they wish to attend. The administrators there can grant a change in dependency if there are compelling reasons to support it. The decision to override a student’s dependency is made on a case-by-case basis and is reserved for extenuating circumstances.

What Circumstances Qualify For A Dependency Override?

When it comes to dependency overrides, the FSA draws a clear line of distinction between being parents who are unable to provide their information and parents who are unwilling to fill out a child’s FAFSA®. While there is room for professional judgment to play a part in the decision-making process, the following scenarios would merit consideration for a dependency override:

  • Student’s parents are incarcerated
  • The student has been abandoned
  • A student comes from an abusive family
  • Parents can’t be located
  • Parents lack the physical or mental ability to be involved

These scenarios would not merit consideration for a dependency override:

  • The student demonstrates financial self-sufficiency
  • Parents refuse to contribute to the student’s education
  • Parents are unwilling to provide their information

How Do I Request a Dependency Override?

Once you have completed and submitted as much of the FAFSA® as possible, you will need to contact your school’s financial aid office directly to explain your family situation. When you contact your school, ask for their dependency override application and for information about their dependency override process.Each school asks for different information from the student, but some recurring themes are any court or other legal documents explaining your parent or parents’ absence in your lives, as well as written statements from the student and qualified adults in the student’s life.Students should be aware that they will need to apply for a dependency override each year they file a FAFSA®.

What If My School Rejects My Request for a Dependency Override?

Options are limited for students who are denied a dependency override request, and there is no further process for appeal.Students should first ask their school’s financial aid office for an unsubsidized loan. Unsubsidized loans require the student to pay any interest accrued on the loan, but the terms are still generally more favorable than those on private loans.If your school is unwilling to offer you an unsubsidized loan, you should look for outside lenders to finance their education.The final, and most extreme option, is to petition a court to declare you an emancipated minor. This option is only available to students who have not yet reached the age of majority, which is 18 years of age in most states.If you are declared an emancipated minor you will be able to file your FAFSA® as an independent student.

What Is Dependency Status?

To better paint a student’s financial picture, the FAFSA® determines whether a student should be considered financially dependent or independent. Students are required to answer the following questions to determine their status:The questions you will need to answer for the 2020-2021 form are:

  • Will you be at least 24 years old on December 31st of the academic year for which you are applying for aid?
  • As of today, are you married?
  • Are you working on a master’s or doctorate program?
  • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?
  • Do you now have, or will you have, children who will receive more than half of their support from you during the school year for which you are applying for aid?
  • Do you have dependents other than your children or spouse who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2020?
  • Are both of your parents deceased, with one of your parents passing after you turned 13?
  • Were you in Foster Care or declared a ward of the court at any time since turning 13?
  • Has it been determined by a court in your state of legal residence that you are an emancipated minor or that someone other than your parent or stepparent has legal guardianship of you?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 2016, were you determined to be an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless, as determined by your high school or district homeless liaison, the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program?

The reason this important is because the parents of dependent students are expected to contribute to a student’s college costs, while the parents of independent students are not expected to do the same. If the parents of a dependent student refuse to provide their information and signature on the FAFSA®, schools won’t process the application.

Should that situation play out, a student may petition his or her school for a dependency override, which would allow the school to process the student’s FAFSA® as an independent student.