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Independent, Common Law and FAFSA

jhsentineljhsentinel Posts: 1 Harvard Champion
I recently received the documents from my school regarding verification for my FAFSA information. Not freaking out or anything, just not sure how to proceed.

This past December I got married to my (now) wife in a small ceremony. The gentleman who officiated was a good friend but is not ordained. This ceremony was more for us and our family, with intentions to get married by a judge this summer. We live in Texas so I know common law marriage applies.

Last year I filed taxes as single because we aren't legally married and I was actually mistaken believing that being married so late in the year didn't effect our filing status. I imported my info into FAFSA and so of course according to FAFSA I'm single.

So my question is... what do I fall under? We were married by someone not ordained, we don't have a marriage certificate and Texas requires you to declare common law at the courthouse (which we haven't done). I'm 28 and she is 23. I'm going to meet with my school's FA office this week. I don't want to change my FAFSA suddenly to married AFTER I'm selected for verification because I don't want to look guilty. But I don't want to get in trouble on down the line either. Any advice?
Post edited by jhsentinel on

Replies to: Independent, Common Law and FAFSA

  • sybbie719sybbie719 Super Moderator Posts: 47
    edited May 2013
    studentaid.gov states the following

    If your parents are living together and are not married but meet the criteria in your state for a common-law marriage, answer the questions about both of them. If your state does not consider them to be married, fill out the parent information as if they are divorced.

    Dependency Status | Federal Student Aid

    Fasfa.gov states
    Is the student married

    The student's marital status should not be projected in the future. “Married/remarried” does not mean living together unless the student's state of legal residence recognizes the relationship as a common law marriage.

  • happymomof1happymomof1 Posts: 100
    edited May 2013
    sybbie719 -

    The OP stated that registration at the courthouse is a requirement, which as not yet been met. This isn't an "Unless" situation. "If" is a good choice of wording. I might have chosen "Since" instead.

    However, if these two young people consider themselves married, perhaps they ought to pop by the courthouse, register, and then go to the financial aid office and sort things out. People get married after filing the FAFSA every single year, and have to ask to have their aid rearranged. I'm sure that in Texas the fin aid officers have a system for dealing with students who are in common law marriages, and can help jhsentinel sort out which date (ceremony or registration) is considered the official date of record for the marriage.

    Given that jhsentinel is 28, he should be classified as an independent student anyway. Unless his wife had a lot of income in 2012 and holds a bunch of property in her own name, his FAFSA might not be affected all that much by adding her numbers in with his.
  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse Posts: 252
    edited May 2013
    You are single from what I can see. Where you would be nearly certainly flagged is when your tax return and your FAFSA are cross checked, and if you have "married" on one and "single" on the other There is a poster here who ran into this issue because her mother files taxes as HOH and yet on FAFSA the parents are down as married, yet that poster wants to use mother's info only. That can be an sore issue.

    In your case, you are single until you register your marriage. You might want to see how that affects your financial aid by running the numbers through some calculators. You can run into some issues if you try to get married students amenities at the school, introduce your SO as your wife, etc when you are getting your fin aid as single, you understand. It's surprising how word can travel in a college community.
  • sybbie719sybbie719 Super Moderator Posts: 47
    edited May 2013
    ok, my bad. Op is still single because he has not taken the steps to file at the court house (skipped that part) :(
  • arabrabarabrab Posts: 9
    edited May 2013
    It seems reasonably clear that you were single when you filed your FAFSA (since you hadn't registered at the courthouse) --

    If you HAD registered at the courthouse before the date of filing your FAFSA, you could make a FAFSA correction to your marital status.

    If you register at the courthouse (or get formally married) after the date of FAFSA filing, it is my understanding that it is up to the college aid officer as to whether or not your FAFSA marital status will be changed for this year, and that the college can set a date after which they won't consider marital changes. (See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-10-29/pdf/2010-26531.pdf p. 66906 - just search for "marital" to get to the discussion.)

    But your thread title is "Independent, Common Law and FAFSA" -- and you are definitely an independent student simply by virtue of your age regardless of your marital status.
  • TempeMomTempeMom Posts: 15 Harvard Champion
    edited May 2013
    In many states with common law marriage there is a living together for a specific time formula....eg 7 years....although that doesn't apper to be required in TX.
  • KKmamaKKmama Posts: 9
    edited May 2013
    Did you file income taxes as married to qualify for the tax reduction? That would flag you for verification.
  • 2collegewego2collegewego Posts: 24
    edited May 2013
    From what I can tell online, you do not have to register a common law marriage in Texas for it to be valid. either: 1- you register the marriage, or 2- you agree that you're married, live together as married and tell people you're married.

    VSU - Marriage and Divorce FAQ
  • happymomof1happymomof1 Posts: 100
    edited May 2013
    If it is necessary to re-file the 2012 taxes, the federal form needed for that purpose is the 1040x. It really is no big deal. I've had to file it more than once myself.
  • Erin's DadErin's Dad Posts: 48
    edited May 2013
    @2college, if you follow the link to the code the OP must be "married" for two years for the self declaration to qualify:
    (2) the man and woman agreed to be married and after the agreement they lived together in this state as husband and wife and there represented to others that they were married.

    (b) If a proceeding in which a marriage is to be proved as provided by Subsection (a)(2) is not commenced before the second anniversary of the date on which the parties separated and ceased living together, it is rebuttably presumed that the parties did not enter into an agreement to be married.

    The OP had a ceremony this past December.
  • allyphoeallyphoe Posts: 13
    edited May 2013
    That code section doesn't say, "you're common law married two years after you start holding out." It says, "If you end up in court, fighting over whether you were common law married, and the relationship broke up less than two years after the purported agreement to be married, we're going to assume that there was no such agreement, unless someone presents actual evidence showing there was."

    If, at the time of the ceremony, OP and not-wife intended to "really" get married at some later date, there was no present intention to be married, and they aren't married.
  • 2collegewego2collegewego Posts: 24
    edited May 2013
    Erin's Dad and allyphoe, no I don't think it says either of those things. What it says is that if the couple have split up and are fighting over whether or not there ever was a marriage, the one who says they were married has 2 years from the split to begin a court proceeding raising that point. Otherwise, they will be presumed not to be married.

    In the OP's case, the real question is whether or not the couple considered themselves married and "held out" that they were married (according to what I found, even if they didn't do it consistently)-- not whether or not they were going to have a second ceremony. If they considered themselves common law married at the first ceremony and presented themselves as married, then having a 2nd ceremony to legalize it doesn't change the date in which they were married. The same logic can be applied to the recording of an informal marriage. Texas law allows couples to record an informal marriage at any point in the informal marriage. If a couple registers their relationship 5 years into a common law marriage, it doesn't reset the clock: they were still common law married 5 years before it was recorded.

    The real question is whether OP and his wife presented themselves as married-- whether or not they were going to have a second ceremony later on.
  • 2collegewego2collegewego Posts: 24
    edited May 2013
    Here's a clearer explanation:

    Common Law Marriage, Travis County, Texas

    "Under a new provision of the Family Code, either partner in a common law marriage has two years after you split up to file an action to prove that the marriage did exist. In order to fit into this provision, you must have separated after September 1, 1989."


    Is there a deadline to ask the court to recognize my common law marriage?
    "Yes. Since most people ask a court to recognize a common law marriage when the couple needs to get a divorce, the deadlines run from the time a couple separates, that is, from the time the couple stops living together. Generally, a couple has two years after they stop living together to ask a court to recognize their common law marriage. If more than two years passes after the couple stops living together, the court will assume there was no agreement to be married. The marriage can still be proved, but it will be more difficult to show."
  • CTScoutmomCTScoutmom Posts: 34
    edited May 2013
    I see two choices, because the state does not require the registration to occur in order for the marriage to be valid (the 2-year rule for recognizing the marriage is irrelevant in this case, since they're not trying to prove it existed after it is disolved).

    choice 1 - they were married during the ceremony. They should register, and list that as the date they consider themselves to be married. They should amend their taxes for 2013. It is a bit complicated only in that they will combine 2 individual tax returns into one 1040X Amended Return. Then contact the school to let them know the situation.

    choice 2 - leave things as they are, and register a marriage date on or after January 1,2014. Before you do this, consider the implications of that marriage date. If you wait to register and choose to claim a date in 2013, you are legally obligated to change that 2013 tax return. Also remember that, no matter what Texas law says, in the eyes of the IRS, once you're married, you're married, and you have to file your taxes as such. There is no "common law divorce, " even if you never register the marriage, and the state of Texas presumes that you were never married,
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