Marriage Equality: Does Your Same Sex Marriage Impact Your FAFSA Status?

This country's social landscape is changing in a permanently new direction with the legalization of same sex marriage, which has drawn both critics and supporters. But instead of debating the merits of same sex marriage, we're going to focus on what it means for you as a student. More than three-quarters of students receive financial aid so they can pay for their education, which means filling out forms carefully and with a lot of detail. For same sex married students, this now means learning whether their FAFSA status is affected or not, but we're here to clear things up.

FAFSA: What It All Means

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is what students fill out when they're looking to receive financial aid, such as the Pell Grant, Federal Work-Study, and Federal student loans. It's one form, but it's not for any one specific program; rather, FAFSA acts as a sort of "portal" that determines how much, if any, financial aid a student is eligible for.

Eligibility is determined on a spectrum instead of a yes-or-no basis, which means that just about every student who applies is eligible for some financial aid. How much they'll get depends on the following criteria:

The student has to have a valid Social Security number and either a high school diploma or GED.

They can't be owing refunds on any previous federal student grants or be in default on previous student loans.

Maintain a minimum GPA according to your school's guidelines.

Don't be found guilty of the sale/possession of illegal drugs while you were receiving federal aid.

Complete the FAFSA application thoroughly and honestly, promising to use the federal aid you'll receive for school.

How Your Marital Status Affects FAFSA

Assuming you've met the criteria we listed above (double check on the FAFSA website for all the up-to-date details), then the next step is determining just how much financial aid you're eligible for. FAFSA looks at your assets and need, going with the general rule of the more you need, the more you'll get. If your household consists of just you and your spouse and you have a six-figure income, you're probably not going to receive as much financial aid as someone with the same income level and eight dependents.

Being married also affects your FAFSA status in a way that's independent of taxes, as FAFSA calculates your eligibility in unison with your spouse's income and assets (even if you normally file taxes separately). So if your spouse makes a lot of money and you don't, FAFSA will still consider you to be well off enough to receive less than if you weren't married.

What a Same Sex Marriage Means for FAFSA

Because FAFSA is a federal program, marriages have to be recognized federally, too. Right now, same sex marriages are not recognized federally, which means you'd be filling out your FAFSA application as though you were a single person. This doesn't necessarily mean the same thing for your tax returns, but as we discussed before, FAFSA eligibility operates a little differently than your taxes.

This may be good or bad for you, depending on your situation. If you don't make a lot of money but your same sex spouse does, then you may be eligible for extra financial aid. But if you're the main breadwinner in your family, supporting your spouse and going back to school, the financial weight on your shoulders may be a bit heavier.