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Professional Judgment
 
Independent Reverting to Dependent

When a student's marital status changes, his or her dependency status remains unchanged for the rest of the award year. So a student who gets divorced or becomes a widow or widower after the application date remains independent for the rest of the award year.

But what happens to this student in the next year, if he or she was independent only by virtue of being married? The regulations indicate that such a student becomes dependent again. For example, on page AVG-23 of the 2007-2008 Application and Verification Guide it states: "A student who was independent only because he was married becomes dependent for the next award year if he divorces and cannot answer yes to any of the dependency questions."

However, many financial aid administrators feel uncomfortable with such a reversion to dependent student status, and will use a dependency override if the student is genuinely self-supporting. Self sufficiency is not enough on its own to justify a dependency override, but many financial aid administrators feel that death of a spouse or a divorce after several years of marriage represents an unusual circumstance that merits an override.

More financial aid administrators will grant a dependency override after death of a spouse than after divorce. This is probably because of the famous statistic that half of all marriages eventually end in divorce. Financial aid administrators figure that since divorce is so common, it doesn't represent an unusual circumstance. However, the US Census Bureau's February 2002 report, Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 1996, showed that although approximately half of all marriages are projected to end in divorce, less than 5% of men and 12% of women age 25 and under are divorced. Moreover, even though the number of divorces per year is a little less than half the number of marriages, the annual divorce rate is only 2% and less than a quarter of people who have ever been married have ever been divorced (see George Barna, The Future of the American Family). So divorce is a relatively rare occurrence, especially among college students age 25 and under.

Documentation consists of a copy of the marriage certificate and either the death certificate or the divorce decree or separation agreement.

Financial aid administrators should also consider an income adjustment to change the income reported on the FAFSA to reflect just the student's income by separating out the deceased's income or replacing the income with estimated award year income.

Note that a student who is separated is still considered married for the purpose of determining dependency status, and so should still be considered independent. See, for example, page AVG-23 of the 2007-2008 Application and Verification Guide.

 

 
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