Generally, dependency overrides are limited to situations in which the family relationship has been severed or where it would be harmful for the student to have continued contact with the family. Examples include:
Abandonment of the student by the parents, generally involving no meaningful contact or financial support for a long period of time, typically at least a year
Parents’ whereabouts are unknown
Parents are incarcerated or institutionalized
Court protection from abuse orders against the parents
Abandonment most often occurs when the student’s parents are divorced and the custodial parent dies. Normally, the non-custodial parent would become responsible for completing the FAFSA, even if the student is living with the stepparent. A stepparent is considered a parent on the FAFSA only while the stepparent is married to the student’s custodial parent. But, if there has been no relationship with the non-custodial parent, sometimes financial aid administrators will use a dependency override to make the student independent. The financial support the student receives from the stepparent will be reported as untaxed income to the student on the FAFSA.
College financial aid administrators can perform a dependency override only when supported by adequate documentation. In most cases, the documentation must come from a third party and not just from the student or the student’s parents. Letters from teachers, doctors, school counselors, social workers, policy and clergy are helpful. Court orders can also be used to support a request for a dependency override.
A dependency override lasts for only one award year. The student must ask the college financial aid administrator for a dependency override each year they file the FAFSA. The college financial aid administrator must confirm that the unusual circumstances continue and that a dependency override is still justified.