Happy child holding her teddy bearAccording to federal tax law, legal parents could claim dependent tax exemption amounting to $4,050 for every single qualifying child. Married couples that file joint tax returns naturally claim their child on their tax returns. However, when parents file their returns separately, as is the case when they’re separated or divorced, the fight over the child could extend to who could claim them on their tax return.

IRS Rules for Claiming Children as Dependents

It’s relatively common for separated or divorced parents to attempt and claim their child as their dependent. To make it easier for legal parents, the IRS developed specific rules that could help them figure out who’s the most qualified parent to claim the child.

For starters, the parent who’s the most qualified to claim a child is the custodial parent. This could be confusing if you share 50/50 physical custody with your ex-spouse, says family law attorneys in Colorado Springs. In cases like these, you could refer to the IRS tiebreaker rules for figuring out which of you could claim your child:

  • If the child lives with each eligible parent equally (50/50), the parent who has a higher AGI or adjusted gross income would be the most qualified to claim the child as a dependent.
  • If only one of the qualified parents is the actual or biological parent of the child, then they are the more qualified parent.
  • If both individuals claiming the child as a dependent are “non-parental caregivers,” the individual with the higher AGI would be considered the more qualified individual to claim the child.

An Important Exception to the Rule

Fortunately, non-custodial parents who wish to claim a qualifying child as their dependent could do so under specific conditions. Primarily, the parent who wants to claim the child needs to give the IRS a written declaration (with the custodial parent’s signature) stating that the custodial parent won’t be claiming the child for tax purposes. This is something that could be arranged between the parents or as a provision in a child custody agreement of divorce settlement.