Who Claims a Child on Taxes After Divorce?

With a divorce, your taxes change significantly. And with children, your tax situation can become even more complex. Read on and we’ll address some common questions and answers related to claiming dependents due to divorce, like “Who claims a child on taxes after divorce?”

First, a primer:

What are the general rules for claiming a qualifying child?

If you qualify to claim someone as a qualifying child, you might be eligible to claim child-related tax benefits.

You can’t claim a dependent if:

  • You could be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer.
  • The dependent is not a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico.

A qualifying child means:

  • The child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of them.
  • The child must be:
    • under age 19 at the end of the year and younger than you (or your spouse if filing jointly)
    • under age 24 at the end of the year, a full-time student (at least 5 calendar months of the year), and younger than you (or your spouse if filing jointly)
    • any age if permanently and totally disabled
  • The child must have lived with you for more than half of the year.
  • The child must not have provided more than half of his or her own support for the year.
  • The child isn’t filing a joint return for the year (unless that joint return is filed only to claim a refund of withheld income tax or estimated tax paid).

If you are legally separated or divorced, and you have a child (or children), can each ex-spouse claim a child as a dependent?

Sometimes in the year of a divorce, your child could be a qualifying child of both you and your spouse. While your child may meet the conditions to be a qualifying child of each spouse, only one person can actually claim the child as a dependent.

How do you determine what spouse gets to claim a dependent?

To determine what ex-spouse can treat your child as a qualifying child for tax purposes, read on.

If you and your spouse don’t file a joint tax return but you could both claim the child as a qualifying child, the IRS will treat the child as the qualifying child of the parent with whom the child lived for the longer period of time during the year.

If the child lived with each parent for the same amount of time, the IRS will treat the child as the qualifying child of the parent who had the higher adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year.

Can each spouse claim a child on taxes for a different part of a tax year?

No, you can’t claim a dependent for part of the year.

Are there additional rules with claiming children on your taxes if recently divorced or separated?

In some cases, your child will be treated as the qualifying child of the noncustodial parent. This applies under a special rule for children of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) when the custodial parent signs Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent and gives it to the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent must attach the form to their tax return.

If the custodial parent releases a claim to exemption for a child, the noncustodial parent may claim the child as a dependent and as a qualifying child for the child tax credit or credit for other dependents. The noncustodial parent can’t claim:

  • Head of household filing status
  • Earned Income Credit
  • Credit for child and dependent care expenses
  • Exclusion of dependent care benefits

Where to go for help with dependent tax questions

For more help on claiming dependents after divorce, or any other question you may have, connect with an experienced tax advisor.


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