What Is the Dependent Spouse Tax Deduction?

A qualifying dependent spouse tax deduction reduces an individual’s taxable income, which reduces their tax burden. The dependent spouse deduction is actually a personal exemption with a specified dollar amount as a deduction. The Internal Revenue Service outlines specific criteria that a dependent spouse must meet in order to qualify as a means to reduce a taxpayer’s tax debt.


Technically, a spouse is never considered a taxpayer’s dependent by the IRS, but a spouse who meets the IRS qualifications may be added as a personal exemption. Dependents are qualifying children and other relatives who receive more than 50 percent of their support from the taxpayer during the tax year. Depending on the circumstances, dependents may or may not be required to live with the taxpayer.


If a married couple files a joint tax return, they may claim at least two personal exemptions — one for each spouse. If one spouse files a separate tax return, the other spouse may not file a tax return. The filing spouse may claim an exemption for the non-filing spouse if she had no income and was not listed as a dependent on another taxpayer’s return. A qualifying spouse must be a United States citizen, a resident alien or a resident of Canada or Mexico or a United States national to be included as an exemption. Nonresident aliens must have no gross income for United States tax purposes.


Adjusted gross income is the number that taxpayers use to calculate their tax liability. To compute their AGI, taxpayers first add the total of their earned income and unearned income to establish their gross income. Earned income is from employment, unearned income is from interest, support payments, rent and any money that is not related to employment. Deductions, such as mortgage interest and credits, such as energy improvements, reduce the gross income. Deductions are set by the IRS and typically reflect a percentage of the cost whereas a tax credit reduces the gross income dollar for dollar. A dependent spouse exemption is a set deduction amount that can vary each year.


Taxpayers with a spouse that meets the qualifications for a dependent can increase the number of personal exemptions on their tax return by one. In 2011, each qualified personal exemption reduces the taxpayer’s taxable income by $3,700. To claim the exemption, check box on line 6b on the IRS form 1040 or 1040A. List your spouse’s name, Social Security or individual taxpayer identification number where indicated.