Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial
research influence how products appear on a page.
Student Loans

What is Considered Legal Residence on the FAFSA?

Updated Feb 26, 2024   |   3-min read

When you’re filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) some of the questions can be a bit confusing—and if you put in the wrong information, it can affect your financial aid.

It’s important to get the information correct; not only can it limit or even eliminate your financial aid eligibility, but it can also cause many more headaches in the form of additional paperwork and delays.

One of the questions that confuses many students is about residency. The FAFSA asks, “What is your parents’ state of legal residence?”

Different situations require a different answer to this question, and where you live may dictate whether or not you’re eligible for financial aid at all. When it comes to what your legal residence is, the key all comes down to where your parents live.

How to Determine your Legal Residency for the FAFSA

For the purposes of the FAFSA, legal residency is defined by your parents’ permanent home.

If You Don’t Live With Your Parents

It sometimes doesn’t even matter if you live with your grandparents, foster parents, or even legal guardians unless they have legally adopted you. As far as the federal government is concerned, you are a legal resident of the same place where your parent or parents reside.

If Your Parents Are Divorced or Live in Different States

If your parents are divorced or live in different states, then your legal residency is based upon whichever parent you lived with for the most time during the previous year.

If your mother lives in Minnesota, for instance, but your father lives in California, then your residency is based upon whichever parent you live with the most. An arrangement where you lived in one location for the school year and another for the summers would result in your legal residency being the state where you spent the school year—a longer time period.

If You Spend Equal Time Living With Each Parent

If you’ve spent equal time with each parent, then residency is based upon whichever parent provided the most financial support over the past year—or during the most recent year that you received any financial support.

Your Parents Live in a Different Country

Since your parents’ legal residence is what determines your own for the purposes of the FAFSA, if your parents’ home is in a foreign country, that could affect your financial aid eligibility.

A Note About Emancipated Minors

If you have been deemed an emancipated minor by a court of law, you may be able to claim your own residency, as opposed to relying on your parents’ address.

It does, however, require a specific set of paperwork and has a separate process; you may need to provide a copy of the court’s decision in order to prove your status.

Bottom Line

It’s critical that you understand what your legal residency is before you start filling out the FAFSA. If you have a complicated situation, make sure you understand how it all works and how it can affect you.

If you need help determining what your residency is, you can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center via email, live chat, or phone.