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Latest from FSA: DOMA Implications for Federal Aid

January 7, 2014

On Friday, December 13th, the Department released a Dear Colleague Letter that provides important information on the use of “marriage” and “spouse” in the Title IV Student Financial Assistance Programs and on completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), under the Supreme Court’s decision invalidating Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor).

The Department provides the following information concerning the application of Windsor to the Title IV HEA programs:

  • For purposes of the Title IV HEA programs, a student or a parent is considered married if the student or parent was legally married in any domestic or foreign jurisdiction that recognizes the relationship as a valid marriage, regardless of where the couple resides.
  • The Department is applying a “place of celebration” rule and, accordingly, has determined that any legal marriage that is recognized by the jurisdiction in which the marriage was celebrated will be recognized for Title IV HEA program purposes without regard to whether the marriage is between persons of the same sex or opposite sex, and without regard to where the couple resides.
  • Applies to both a student and to the parents of a dependent student.
  • Applies to a student attending an institution located in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage and in a jurisdiction (e.g., a state) that does not recognize same-sex marriage.
  • Applies only to marriages and does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.
  • Relevant to all questions concerning marriage and marital status on the FAFSA.
  • Consistent with long-standing policy guidance, persons considered to be married under a state’s common law are considered to be married for purposes of the Title IV student financial assistance programs.

Refer to the full Dear Colleague Letter for guidance on implications on FAFSA completion and EFC calculation in the following situations:

1)   First-time 2013-2014 FAFSA applicants

2)   Previously submitted 2013-2014 FAFSAs

3)   Implementation procedures

4)   Instructions and revised guidance

5)   Matters specific to the 2014-2015 FAFSA and subsequent years’ FAFSA

The Department may issue additional guidance regarding the information contained in the letter, as well as guidance concerning other provisions of the HEA that are impacted by Windsor. Revised applicant instructions for the FAFSA will also be available on the web site and from the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800 4 FED AID (1-800-433-3243). Institutions that have questions regarding the information in this letter may contact Federal Student Aid’s Research and Customer Care Center (Care Center) staff. Staff is available Monday through Friday between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) at 1-800-433-7327. After hours calls will be accepted by an automated voice response system. Callers leaving their names and phone numbers will receive a return call the next business day. Alternatively, you may e-mail the Care Center at

Pam King, Midwest Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions

Pam King, Midwest Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions

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