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Common Questions About Claiming Dependents

February 11, 2016 : Kevin Martin – The Tax Institute

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You are allowed to claim one exemption for each person you can claim as a dependent. This is important, since exemptions reduce your taxable income. Dependents are qualifying children or qualifying relatives as described below.

To be a qualifying child, the following requirements must be met:

  • They are your children, stepchildren, foster children, sibling, half sibling, stepbrother, stepsister (or a descendent of any of those)
  • They must be under the age of 19 and be younger than you (or your spouse), or be a full-time student under age 24 and younger then you, or be permanently and totally disabled
  • The child must have lived with you for more than half the year
  • The child must not have provided more than half of his or her support for the year
  • The child must not be filing a joint return for the year
  • The child normally must be a U.S. citizen or national, resident alien, or a resident of Canada or Mexico
  • You are not claimable as a dependent on someone else’s return

So who is a qualifying relative?

  • The person cannot be anyone’s qualifying child
  • The person must be related to you in one of several ways, or live with you all year as member of your household
  • The person’s gross income for the 2015 tax year must be below $4,000 and
  • You must provide more than half of the support for that person during the year
  • The person must be a U.S. citizen or national,resident alien, or a resident of Canada or Mexico

Dependency can actually be one of the more complex tax issues, and we get a lot of questions about it. We already answered several questions in this post. Here are a few more common concerns with answers from The Tax Institute.

  1. Can my ex-husband claim our two children as dependents while I claim them for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)?

Yes, if you are the custodial parent, this is possible. A qualifying child does not need to meet the support test under the EITC rules. However, even if all the other tests are met, the child normally must have lived with the person claiming them for more than half the year. If the children both lived with you for more than half the year, you would be able to claim them for both dependency and EITC purposes.

Nonetheless, a parent can release the dependency exemption to a noncustodial parent using Form 8332. This form will allow that noncustodial parent to claim the dependency exemption, but it will not allow that parent to treat the child as their qualifying child for EITC purposes. You, as the actual custodial parent, would still be able to claim the children when figuring your available EITC.

  1. I was pregnant and living with my boyfriend from June-August. The baby and I lived with him until November, at which point I moved out into my own apartment. I didn’t have any income from June through November, but am now employed. However, I will not have earned $4,000 this year. Can I claim my child?

Yes, your child meets the qualifying child requirements and you can claim him or her as a dependent. You would not be able to claim the child if you were considered a dependent of your boyfriend, but he cannot claim you as a dependent under the qualifying relative test since you did not live in his household the entire year.

  1. Can I claim my girlfriend as a dependent on my tax return?

You may be able to claim your girlfriend if she is a qualifying relative, based on the factors described above.

  1. My child’s father is in prison. Can he claim our son on his tax return?

He may be able to claim the son. A child normally must live with the parent for more than half the year in order to qualify as a dependent. However, an exception can apply for certain temporary absences. Whether someone who is incarcerated is temporarily absent from the home will depend on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. Specifically, it may depend on whether the incarcerated person intends to return to the home as well on whether the child intends to remain in that home. The length of stay in prison by itself does not determine the result. Nonetheless, a custodial parent’s claim to a child would likely be recognized over an incarcerated parent’s claim.

  1. Generally, my ex-husband and I trade off claiming the children on our tax returns. However, he hasn’t filed yet. So I was wondering, if my child lived exactly six months with me and exactly six months with him, can I claim her? We don’t have any formal agreement.

The children will in almost all cases live with at least one parent for more than half the year, since a normal year contains an odd number of days (365). If the children here only lived with the two parents, they must have lived with one parent for at least 183 days. That parent will be the custodial parent, and be able to claim the children.

If the children lived with both parents for at least 183 days, and all the other requirements for qualifying child are met, then they will be qualifying children for both parents. In that case, the tiebreaker rules must be used. Under these rules , the parents can first agree on who will claim the children, which you and your ex-husband had done in the past, If both parents actually claim the child, the child will be treated as the qualifying child of the parent with whom the child lived the longest during the tax year. If both parents actually claim the child, and the child lived with the parents the same amount of time, the child will be treated as the qualifying child of the parent with the higher adjusted gross income (AGI)

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Kevin Martin – The Tax Institute

Kevin Martin – The Tax Institute

The Tax Institute

Kevin Martin, JD, LLM, is a lead tax research analyst at The Tax Institute. Kevin leads research teams focused on estate, trust, gift, retirement, IRS procedures and state and local tax issues.

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