Answer: The issue of tax claims is completely separate from the FAFSA independent student status. The FAFSA status is based on the student’s living situation. As long as the student is determined to be unaccompanied and homeless in the year in which he is submitting the application, he is considered an independent student for the FAFSA, regardless of whether someone else is fraudulently claiming him as a dependent on their taxes.
A parent or another person’s decision to claim a youth as a dependent on their taxes reflects on the parent or on the person making the claim; that person may be subject to penalties for unlawfully claiming a youth as a dependent. The key point is that the parent or other person’s actions should not subject the youth to penalties or make them ineligible for independent student status on the FAFSA, as long as the youth is abiding by the tax laws applicable to his own income and does not personally benefit from the parent or other person’s unlawful actions.
I know it is confusing because both the FAFSA and the IRS use the term “dependent,” but they are different matters.