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IRS Tiebreaker Rules for Claiming Dependents

Resolutions for Parents Who Share Equal Custody

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Couple working on taxes together
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Generally speaking, the parent who has custody for the greater part of the year gets to claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes. However, claiming dependents can be confusing for parents who share physical custody. Let's say that you enjoy a true "50/50" split. Your children literally reside with you 50% of the time, and with the other parent for the other 50% of the time. In such cases, the IRS uses what are known as "tiebreaker rules" to determine which parent can claim the children as dependents.

Tiebreaker Rules for Claiming Dependents

  • In cases where only one of the two caretakers is actually the child's parent, then it is the parent who gets to claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes

  • In cases where both parents are eligible to claim the child as a qualifying dependent, and the child lived with each parent equally, then the parent with the greater adjusted gross income (AGI) shall claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes.

  • In cases between two non-parental caregivers, the caregiver with the greater adjusted gross income (AGI) becomes eligible to claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes.

Frequently Asked Questions About Claiming Dependents

  1. What if the parents share physical custody, but the split is not 50/50?
    In cases where two parents share physical custody, but the child clearly resides with one parent for more than 50% of the time, then the parent with the greater percentage of parenting time is eligible to claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes.

  2. What should I do if I believe that I have the right to claim my child as a dependent, but my ex refuses to agree with me and has already told me that he intends to claim my child anyway?
    In this situation, it is best to seek the advice of a professional tax advisory to be sure that you are eligible to claim your child as a dependent. In the event that you've confirmed your eligibility, go ahead and file your taxes, but be prepared to defend yourself in the case of an audit. Generally speaking, when the The Internal Revenue Service receives multiple tax returns claiming the same dependent child, they will audit the taxpayer they believe is ineligible to claim the said child as a dependent. For more on this issue, read Audits for Determining Who is Eligible to Claim a Dependent.

  3. What if the parent who is eligible to claim the child as a dependent chooses not to?
    Parents who are eligible for claiming dependents can opt to allow the other parent to claim the child or children by completing form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent.

References:
"Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." IRS. N.p., 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 14 Feb. 2011. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p501.pdf>.

"Publication 504 - Main Content." IRS. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2011. http://www.irs.gov/publications/p504/ar02.html>.

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