Parents who are divorced, separated, never married or live apart and who share custody of a child with an ex-spouse or ex-partner need to understand the specific rules about who may be eligible to claim the child for tax purposes. This understanding can make filing taxes easier for both parents and avoid errors that may lead to processing delays or costly tax mistakes.

Only one person may be eligible to claim the qualifying child as a dependent.

Only one person can claim the tax benefits related to a dependent child who meets the qualifying child rules. Parents cannot share or split the tax benefits for their child on their respective tax returns.

Each parent must know who will claim the child for tax purposes. If two people claim the same child on different tax returns, it will slow down processing time while the IRS determines which parent’s claim takes priority.

Custodial parents generally claim the qualifying child as a dependent on their return.

  • The custodial parent is the parent with whom the child lived for the greater number of nights during the year. The other parent is the noncustodial parent.
  • In most cases, because of the residency test, the custodial parent claims the child on his or her tax return.
  • If the child lived with each parent for an equal number of nights during the year, the custodial parent is the parent with the higher adjusted gross income. 

Tie-breaker rules may apply if the child is a qualifying child of more than one person.

  • Although the child may meet the conditions to be a qualifying child of either parent, only one person can actually claim the child as a qualifying child, provided the taxpayer is eligible.
  • People should carefully read Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals to understand who is eligible to claim a qualifying child.

Noncustodial parents may be eligible to claim a qualifying child. 

Special rules apply for a child to be treated as a qualifying child of the noncustodial parent.

  • The custodial parent can release the dependency exemption and sign a written declaration or Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent for the noncustodial parent to submit with his or her tax return.
  • This rule also applies to some tax benefits, including the child tax credit, additional child tax credit, and credit for other dependents. It does not apply to other tax benefits, such as the earned income credit, dependent care credit or head of household filing status.

For more information, contact Wayne M. Pecht, Esquire or Theresa Weaver-Barbers at 717-761-4540 or by email at [email protected] or [email protected]