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Student Remarries after Application Date

The regulations concerning updates to an applicant's marital status have changed, effective 7/1/2012. Previously the regulations prohibited applicants from updating household size, number in college or dependency status due to a change in the applicant's marital status (34 CFR 668.55(a)). The new regulations provide the financial aid administrator with the discretion to require an update to a student's marital status (and corresponding changes in household size, number in college and dependency status) "to address an inequity or to more accurately reflect the applicant's ability to pay". The discussion of the final rule at 75 FR 66832 allows a college to establish "a cut-off date after which it will not consider any updates to a student.s marital status".

Thus there are now two reasons why a student might change the answer to the FAFSA question concerning the student's marital status:

  • Correction. If the answer on the FAFSA was incorrect as of the FAFSA application date, the applicant may change the answer to correct the error.

  • Update. If the answer on the FAFSA was correct as of the FAFSA application date, but has subsequently changed, the college financial aid administrator may choose to allow or disallow a change to the answer on the FAFSA.

In both cases the change in status should be reviewed by the college financial aid administrator. Financial aid administrators should look for comment code 75 to identify students who have changed the student's marital status.

If the student says that the marital status was in error, the financial aid administrator should ask for a copy of the marriage certificate and compare the date of the certificate with the FAFSA's application date.

Note that if a student failed to sign and date a FAFSA application (whether in paper or online), there are two dates to consider: the original date the FAFSA was submitted and the date the FAFSA was signed. Most financial aid administrators will base a decision as to whether a change in the applicant's marital status is a correction or update on the original submission date, not the date the FAFSA was signed, as the submission date is the date the application was completed and the signature is merely attesting to the accuracy on that date. That's why the FAFSA asks for the date the form was completed and not the date it was signed.

If the marital status was not in error, but has subsequently changed, the college financial aid administrator will need to decide whether to allow or disallow the change. The regulations allow but do not require the college financial aid administrator to update the FAFSA information for marital status, and make corresponding changes to household size, number in college and dependency status if this is necessary to:

  • address an inequity
  • reflect more accurately the applicant's ability to pay

This is a less stringent standard than previously, where the college financial aid administrator would have needed to argue that there was a special circumstance (other than the change in marital status) that merited an adjustment.

Circumstances for which the college financial aid administrator might allow an update to the student's marital status include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Death of a spouse. The death of a wage-earner yields a significant change in the applicant's ability to pay.

  • Divorce or separation due to incarceration or incapacitation of spouse.

  • Divorce or separation due to a court protection from abuse order against the spouse.

Note that the circumstances causing a change in marital status do not need to be involuntary in nature. Note also that the change in marital status does not need to be only in the direction of dissolution of a marriage due to death, divorce or separation. It can also include changes due to the marriage of the student.

The decision is left to the discretion of the college financial aid administrator partly to allow colleges to manage the administrative burden associated with mid-year marital status changes. This also allows college financial aid administrators to ensure the accuracy of a change in the applicant's marital status, since such changes are prone to error and fraud.

If the applicant's marital status is updated, the rest of the FAFSA must also be updated to be consistent with the new status. This includes updates to household size, number in college and dependency status, as well as adjusting for the income and assets of the student's spouse.

There's a new reject (21) and corresponding override to implement this change.

The previous prohibition on updates to the applicant's marital status was probably motivated by a desire to provide stability in the applicant's marital status. Most of the other potential causes of a dependency status change are permanent state changes that do not result in a flip-flop. For example, birth of a child, becoming a veteran, and becoming an orphan generally do not change back and forth. Marital status is the only one that could potentially change many times throughout the year. (Technically, the snapshot philosophy of need analysis entails allowing no changes. So rather than disallowing updates caused by a change in the student's marital status, the old regulations were simply not allowing it as an exception, presumably because a change in the student's marital status could affect the student's dependency status, leading to significant changes in financial aid eligibility.)

See also Changes in Household Size and Dependency Status.

The text of the regulations at 34 CFR 668.55 "Updating information" is as follows:

  1. If an applicant's dependency status changes at any time during the award year, the applicant must update FAFSA information, except when the update is due to a change in his or her marital status.

    1. An applicant who is selected for verification of the number of persons in his or her household (household size) or the number of those in the household who are attending postsecondary institutions (number in college) must update those items to be correct as of the date of verification, except when the update is due to a change in his or her marital status.
    2. Notwithstanding paragraph (b)(1) of this section, an applicant is not required to provide documentation of household size or number in college during a subsequent verification of either item if the information has not changed.

  2. An institution may require an applicant to update FAFSA information under paragraph (a) or (b) of this section for a change in the applicant's marital status if the institution determines the update is necessary to address an inequity or to reflect more accurately the applicant's ability to pay.

 

 
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