Can Divorced Parents Split Dependents & Both File Head of Household?

Can Divorced Parents Split Dependents & Both File Head of Household?
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Can two people claim head of household if they were divorced and married? Yes, divorced parents can both claim head of household status in the same tax year by claiming different children as dependents. You’d better make sure you get your numbers straight, however, or your return might get rejected by the IRS, end up costing you a fine or penalty or cause you to lose out on thousands of dollars in tax benefits.

Reviewing the IRS rules for divorced parents raising different children claiming head of household will help you both get the tax benefits to which you’re entitled.

What Is Filing Status?

One of the first terms you’ll need to familiarize yourself with if you want to manage your taxes over the years is “filing status.” When you file your tax return, you’ll need to identify your filing status by checking a box corresponding to one of these options:

  • Single
  • Married filing separately
  • Married filing jointly
  • Head of household
  • Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child

Most of these are self-explanatory, except for head of household, which refers to a nonmarried person with one or more qualifying dependents.

Head of Household

If you are not married and are paying more than 50 percent of the household expenses for one or more dependents, you can claim head of household filing, rather than single status. A qualifying dependent can be an adult or child (or more than one) who meets certain guidelines.

For example, if you are caring for a dependent parent who pays some of her expenses with her retirement savings, but you pay more than half of her living expenses, you can file head of household. If you are divorced or never married but are paying most of the bills for one or more minor children, you can claim head of household.

Review the qualifications for a child dependent or talk to a tax professional before you claim head of household status.

Two Parents Claiming This Status

If parents are not married and each one pays the majority of different children’s expenses, they can each claim head of household.

For example, Dave and Staci have two minor children, Tommy and Deborah. Dave lives in an apartment with his son Tommy, paying most of the household expenses. Staci lives in a house with their daughter Deborah, paying most or all of the living expenses for the child. Both Dave and Staci can claim head of household.

Can unmarried couples both claim head of household when living together? It gets trickier if the two parents live together, but based on how much they are paying for supporting each child, they might be able to claim head of household.

Why Choose This Filing Status?

Filing head of household instead of single can help reduce your taxable income and increase your refund, advises TurboTax. The head of household standard deduction, for example, is ​$18,800​ vs. ​$12,500​ for tax year 2021. You might also qualify for other child tax care credits.

Using Form 886 H HOH

The IRS might challenge your head of household status or ask you for more information before they accept it. If so, they’ll send you Form 886 H HOH. Reviewing this form before you file will help you see if you qualify, and what supporting documentation you might want to provide with your filing to make sure your status is accepted.