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For students who find it impossible or unsuitable to put one parent's financial information on the FAFSA, such as in cases where a parent is abusive, neglectful, incarcerated or absent, universities can exercise their professional judgment and grant a dependency override to the student and disregard their parent's information.
Filing for a dependency overrides consists of a lengthy process that varies across universities, and most schools require written evidence explaining the situation and why the student is unable to submit a parent's financial information. Written evidence may include law enforcement documents, explanatory letters from counselors, social workers or clergy members or other relevant information that sheds light onto your special circumstances.
» MORE: FAFSA checklist
Steps for filling out the FAFSA for students requiring a dependency override
In Step 3 (Student), check "yes" for any applicable questions. If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, FAFSA considers you to be an independent student, and you can skip Step 4 (Parent). If you cannot answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may need to apply for a dependency override with your university.
FAFSA on the Web will ask whether you are able to provide information about your parents. Indicate that you have special circumstances that make you unable to provide this information.
Submit the FAFSA without the information of the parent whose whereabouts you do not know. Although your FAFSA will be submitted, if you have not answered "yes" to the questions that determine independent student status (explained in Step 1), your FAFSA will not be fully processed. You need to contact your school regarding further steps.
Contact your university's financial aid office and explain your situation; see if they have university-specific advice or protocols. They will likely ask you to fill out additional forms or submit letters from counselors or other parties who know your situation well.
Advice from University Financial Aid Officers
When a student is seeking a dependency override, they should remember that documentation is the most important part of any override. The common overrides allowed by the FAFSA are, age, marriage, children, military service, homelessness, foster care, legal guardianship, and emancipated minor. Other overrides allowed by schools are, if the student's parents are in another country or otherwise estranged, and if the student left home to escape an abusive relationship. With these overrides the student must select on the FAFSA that they cannot provide parent information. The FAFSA will process as incomplete and the student will then need to follow up with the financial aid office of the institution to which they are applying to resolve the dependency issue.
— Michael Rogovin, former Education Advisor at the American Student Assistance Center
Students who are unable to provide parent information on the FAFSA due to abuse, neglect or incarceration should contact the Financial Aid Office at the school of their choice.
— Amy Cable, former Director of Financial Aid at Mid-South Community College