There are few bureaucratic tasks more tedious than filing one’s taxes. It is safe to say that most Americans would likely rather spend many hours waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles than they would filing their taxes. But, as failing to file may result in serious penalties, it is a task that must be tackled every year without fail.
One of the reasons that filing taxes is so arduous is that the United States tax code is notoriously complex. It can be very difficult to discern what exemptions an individual qualifies for, what income must be reported and what information remains irrelevant from the Internal Revenue Service’s point of view. For example, it can be challenging to know whether you may claim your child as a dependent, especially if you and your child’s other parent are not married. If one of you pays child support, the puzzle becomes even more befuddling. Thankfully, there are some general rules that make this situation a bit less frustrating to sort out.
Can You Claim Your Child as a Dependent?
If your child resides with you more than 50 percent of the time, you are likely the parent who will claim your child as a dependent for tax purposes. The primary exception to this general rule occurs when your child custody or child support order holds that your child’s other parent retains the right to claim your child as a dependent for tax purposes. This is not an order that is given in many cases, but rather an agreement that some parents make while negotiating the terms of their custody and support orders. For example, parents who share custody of their children may opt to claim their child as a dependent every other year. Or, sometimes a non-custodial parent will request the ability to claim the child as a dependent in exchange for a concession during the negotiation process.
It is also possible for custodial parents to submit a written declaration stating that they will not claim their children as dependents in a given year so that the non-custodial parent can do so for that specific year. But barring an exception such as this however, if your child resides under your roof more than 50 percent of the time, you are generally entitled to claim him or her as a dependent on your taxes.
Can Someone Else Claim Your Child as a Dependent?
Unless you have an agreement with your child’s other parent, if your child does not live with you at least 51 percent of the time, you generally cannot claim your child as a dependent for tax purposes. This is true even if you pay significant child support payments. The IRS uses residency, not child support, as a litmus test for which parent may claim a child on their taxes.
Help Is Available
Lawyers that specialize in family and tax law tend to be intimately familiar with this area of law and will be happy to answer your questions.
In addition, if you are either facing a situation where you are unable to consistently meet your child support obligations or your child’s other parent is inconsistent about meeting payment deadlines, please consider speaking with an attorney. Legal remedies such as modification of orders or child support order enforcement may be available to you.