To file your tax return as head of household, you must be considered unmarried by the IRS, pay more than half of the expense of maintaining your home, and have a qualifying person who lived with you for more than half of the year. With very few exceptions, this means that you have to claim someone as a dependent to be eligible for head of household status.
A Qualifying Person
According to the IRS, a qualifying person for the head of household filing status may be a qualifying child, parent or relative. To be a qualifying child, the person must be:
- Your son, daughter or grandchild, either naturally, through marriage or through adoption.
- Either under 18; under 24 and a full-time student; or disabled.
- Either single, or married as long as you can claim an exemption for her.
To be a qualifying parent or relative, the person must:
- Your mother, father, grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, niece or nephew.
- Have a gross income lower than the current personal exemption. For 2015, her income must be less than $4,000.
Claiming a Qualifying Person as a Dependent
As a general rule, you must claim the qualifying person as a dependent to qualify for head of household. If you claim the person as a dependent, you receive a personal exemption for him when you file your tax return. Your dependent can also elect to file a tax return, but he must note that someone else is claiming him as a dependent. Claiming someone as a dependent also means that no one else -- for example, another family member or ex-spouse -- can claim him for that year.
Exception to the Rule
There are a few circumstances where you can file as head of household without claiming a qualifying person as a dependent. According to IRS Publication 501, a parent can still file as head of household as long as:
- Your child, stepchild or adopted child lived with you for more than half of the year.
- You could have claimed the child as a dependent but elected not to because of a written declaration, agreement or court decree.
The tax code allows you to waive your right to claim a dependent child under the following circumstances:
- You allowed the noncustodial parent to claim the child through written declaration.
- The noncustodial parent claims the child under a pre-1985 agreement and provides at least $600 of support.
- A degree or agreement that came into effect before 2009 allows the noncustodial parent to claim the dependent regardless of how much support she provides.
The rules that allow you to file as head of household while not claiming your child as a dependent are complex. If you're in this situation, check with a tax accountant or tax attorney to ensure you have a valid agreement that allows you to waive your right to claim a dependent.