If you have a dependent child or qualifying relative, you may be able to claim an exemption for him as a dependent on your income taxes. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules only allow one person to claim an exemption for a dependent and that person must qualify for the exemption. To be able to file with a head of household filing status, you must have a qualifying person who, under most circumstances, you must claim as a dependent.
To claim head of household filing status, you must be unmarried or considered unmarried (divorced taxpayers are considered unmarried). You must have paid for more than half the upkeep of a home for the tax year and you must have had a qualifying person live with you for more than half the year--your child is usually a qualifying person. Generally, these criteria qualify you for head of household filing status. However, if you are divorced, other criteria may be applied.
Due to the residency requirement, the custodial parent generally claims the exemption for the child, and, if she meets the other requirements, is entitled to claim head of household. However, various situations arise that trigger filing status and dependent exemption rules related to income and the amount of time the child spent with each parent. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to claim head of household filing status even if someone else claims your child as a dependent.
Multiple Qualifying Persons
If more than one person qualifies to take the dependent exemption and meets that test for the head of household status, the IRS has tiebreaker rules. If only one of the people is the child's parent, the parent gets the exemption. If the parents don't file a joint return, but both parents claim the child, the parent with whom the child lived most of the year gets the exemption. If the child spent an equal amount of time with each parent, the one with the highest adjusted gross income (AGI) wins. If no parent can claim the child, the person with the highest AGI gets the exemption. If the parents can claim the child but don't, the person with the highest AGI of the people who can claim the child gets the exemption, but only if that AGI is higher than both of the parents' AGIs.
Dependent Exemption Exception
If the noncustodial parent claims the child as a dependent due to the divorce decree, exemption waiver letter or your signature on Form 8332, he can claim the dependent exemption and the child tax credit. The custodial parent, however, can claim head of household filing status, the credit for dependent and child care expenses, the exclusion for dependent care benefits and the earned income credit.
- IRS.gov; Publication 501 -- Exemptions, Standard Deductions and Filing Information; January 5, 2011
- IRS. “Publication 5307, Tax Reform Basics for Individuals and Families.” Pages 1, 4, 7. Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.
- IRS. “Qualifying Child of More Than One Person.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.
- IRS. "2019 Publication 501: Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." Page 16. Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.
- IRS. "Understanding Your CP87C Notice." Accessed Oct. 21, 2020.
Julie Segraves is a freelance writer and photographer. She has written for several community newspapers in Chicago and authors her own blog. Segraves graduated from Loyola University with a Bachelor's in sociology and a minor in criminal justice. She currently works in the IT field as a mainframe operations analyst and disaster recovery specialist.