Claiming a dependent child on your tax return can provide tax benefits, such as the child tax credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and a more favorable filing status. However, being divorced or legally separated can make it difficult to determine who can claim dependents.
Who gets to claim dependents when you’re divorced?
It’s most common for the custodial parent—the one the child spends more than half the year with—to claim the dependent. However, the noncustodial parent may also claim the dependent if the custodial parent agrees.
What happens if divorced parents both claim a child as a dependent?
When both parents claim the child, the IRS will use tiebreaker rules to determine which parent gets the dependent. The parent who does not qualify to claim the dependent will have to file an amended return and could even be audited, so it’s better to communicate and decide who will claim the dependent.
If you are divorced or separated and you want to claim a dependent child on your tax return, you will need to provide the following documents to your tax preparer:
- Birth certificate or adoption decree for the dependent
- Proof of residency for the dependent, such as school records, medical records, or a written statement from the custodial parent
- Signed Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, if you are the noncustodial parent claiming the dependent
In addition to these required documents, you may also want to provide the following documents to support your claim:
- Divorce or separation decree, if applicable
- Court order granting custody, if applicable
- Written statement from the custodial parent releasing their dependency claim, if applicable
Here is a checklist for taxpayers who are divorced or separated and want to claim a dependent child on their tax return:
- Determine who is the custodial parent. This is the parent with whom the child lived for the greater number of nights during the year. If the child lived with each parent for an equal number of nights, the custodial parent is the parent with the higher adjusted gross income.
- Check your divorce or separation decree. If the decree specifies which parent can claim the child as a dependent, follow those instructions.
- If you are the custodial parent and want to release your dependency claim, sign Form 8332 or a written declaration. You can do this for one year or for several years.
- If you are the noncustodial parent and want to claim the child as a dependent, obtain a signed Form 8332 or written declaration from the custodial parent releasing their dependency claim.
- Only one parent can claim the child as a dependent on their tax return. If both parents claim the child, the IRS will use tiebreaker rules to determine which parent gets the dependent.
- Gather the required documents listed above and provide them to your tax preparer.
- File your tax return on time.
By following this checklist, you can help to ensure that you are able to claim your dependent child on your tax return and receive the benefits that you are entitled to.