Generally, IRS regulations determine who has the right to claim a child as a dependent if the parents of a child divorce, separate or never marry each other. A father who pays child support by agreement or by court order doesn’t automatically become eligible to claim his child as a dependent. For the IRS, the main considerations that decide who claims the child is where the child lives and who provides the majority of your child’s financial support during the tax year. In most cases, your child must meet several additional dependent qualifiers, says the Internal Revenue Service.
Qualifying Child Test
Before you can claim your child as your dependent, the child must pass the IRS Qualifying Child regulation. These rules state that can claim your children only if they are less than 19 years old at the end of the tax year. When your child is a student, they qualify as a dependent if they are less than 24 at the end of the tax year. Disabled children don’t need to meet either age limit.
U.S. Citizenship Test
Your child must also be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Qualifying children may be residents of Canada and Mexico. They must have a valid Social Security number at the time you list them as a dependent on your tax return. You must provide your child’s Social Security number on your tax return, or the IRS automatically denies your claim.
IRS Dependent Support Test
You must also have provided at least half of their support. They must have provided less than half their own support during the year and won’t file a joint return for the same tax year. They may file to get a refund of tax paid during the year.
Your child must live with you for at least six months during the tax year. Divorce or separation of a child’s parents often results in competing dependent claims. If you and the other parent have joint custody of your child, review the IRS residence rules to assess which parent your child lives with the greater number of months in the tax year. In most situations when the two parents don’t share custody, the IRS rules that the qualifying child is the dependent of the parent who has custody of the child.
Considering Custodial Status
Without a binding legal custody order, separated parents must agree on their dependent’s status for tax preparation. When both parents support the child equally and both meet the residence percent test, you can’t divide the deductions and exemptions for a qualifying child between two eligible taxpayers. Only one person has the right to claim a qualifying child dependent.
Consent by Custodial Parent
The custodial parent also has the option to let you claim your child as a dependent when all other tests qualify your child. The IRS requires that the mother complete IRS Form 8332 or a signed, written declaration that she will not claim the child. You must attach the form or statement to your tax return every year that you claim your child as a dependent.
The mother can extend your right to claim your child for multiple years using Part II of the same form. However, this form is valid for future tax years, only by continued agreement. If your child’s mother decides to resume claiming the child and she still meets all of the qualifying child tests, she can cancel her consent by completing Form 8332, Part III. Then, she submits it with her tax return.
- Internal Revenue Service: Publication 501 (2019), Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information
- Internal Revenue Service: Form 8332 Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent
- Internal Revenue Service. "What’s new with the child tax credit after tax reform." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 972: Child Tax Credit," Pages 1, 3. Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Child Tax Credit and Credit for Other Dependents at a Glance." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501: Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information," Page 11. Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Dependents." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 504 (2018), Divorced or Separated Individuals." Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501: Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information," Page 17. Accessed Jan. 28, 2020.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 5334: Do I Qualify for EITC?" Accessed Sept. 21, 2020.
Carol Luther has published feature articles in print magazines, ghostwritten blogs, and produced digital content since 2007. She has published personal finance and small business articles for the Houston Chronicle, Mahalo, the Nest, USA Today, Wahm, and Zacks. Carol has designed, implemented and managed multi-year, multimillion-dollar domestic and international projects services for higher education, nonprofits, and small to medium businesses for more than 20 years.