Can Unmarried Couples Living Together Claim the Head of Household if They Both Have Children?

by Jeffrey Joyner ; Updated July 27, 2017
If the children share a room, the IRS may consider you a family.

If you are eligible to choose the head of household filing status instead of the single filing status, you will typically pay less in income tax. The Internal Revenue Service's tax rates are lower and the standard deduction is higher. Although it is improbable that a couple living together can each claim the head of household filing status, it is not impossible, but the issue is complex.

Basic Requirements for Filing as Head of Household

The IRS requires taxpayers who choose the head of household filing status to be unmarried on Dec. 31 or "considered unmarried" under IRS rules. Your qualifying child must have resided with you for more than six months unless he was absent for school, medical treatment or vacation. You must have paid more than 50 percent of the cost of maintaining the home in which the child lived. This last qualification is the most difficult to prove when two taxpayers in the same residence each claim head of household status, because both cannot have paid more than half. It is therefore necessary to prove that two separate households existed within the same residence.

Determining Factors

In a 1998 memorandum, the IRS ruled that all facts had to be considered in determining whether two taxpayers sharing a dwelling could each claim head of household. The ruling detailed the expenses that comprise household expenses and acceptable means of verifying the expenses. The IRS also included a test on how the household functioned in its ruling.

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Allowable Expenses

In determining the expenses paid for maintaining a household, you may include rent, property taxes and insurance, utility bills, repairs and maintenance, interest on mortgage payments and food purchased for consumption in the home. You cannot include medical bills, clothing, vacations, school expenses, transportation costs or life insurance, nor can you count the value of your services in the household.

Proof of Expenses

The IRS accepts canceled checks, journals or logs detailing who paid which expense, and receipts as proof of payment. If one or both of the adults receive public assistance, such as a rent or utility subsidy, a statement or award letter from the agency counts as proof of payment.

Functioning of Household Members

If you can prove that each family functioned independently of the other in non-household matters, you may be able to each claim head of household status. The adults must maintain separate bedrooms, as must the children. However, if the entire household functions as a family unit, the IRS will likely deny your status. If you co-mingle funds, give presents jointly, eat meals together and share a bank account, you are functioning as a family unit, meaning only one of you may claim the head of household status.

About the Author

Jeffrey Joyner has had numerous articles published on the Internet covering a wide range of topics. He studied electrical engineering after a tour of duty in the military, then became a freelance computer programmer for several years before settling on a career as a writer.

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