Can Both Parents Claim Their Child on Taxes?

tax credit

Can both parents claim the same dependent child on their tax returns? Since the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules allow you to reduce your taxes by claiming a dependent child on your tax return, this is a common question.

Who can claim a child on their tax return?

Generally, only one parent can claim their child on their tax return. When spouses file a joint return, they both share the tax benefits of a child they have in common. However, if they remain married but file separate tax returns, one of them can claim half the eligible tax credit or deduction. Divorced couples or parents who never married must determine which parent will claim the child on their tax return.

The IRS typically allows the parent who the child lived with the most during the year to claim the tax benefits for that child. However, a custodial parent can officially waive their right to claim the child on their tax return using IRS Form 8332 Release of Claim or another comparable written agreement. This is a common arrangement in situations where the non-custodial parent provides considerable child support. Additionally, it may be possible in certain circumstances for parents to agree to “split” the benefits. For instance, the non-custodial parent might claim the child tax credit while the other takes advantage of other tax benefits such as Head-of-Household filing status.

Can parents claim tax benefits in alternate years?

For some families, alternating who claims a child on their taxes each year is the best option. This means one parent claims their child on their taxes for the current year, and the other parent claims the child on their taxes the next year.

Families with an odd number of children often take this approach, alternating who claims the extra child each year. This cycle continues until the child is no longer a dependent. It’s helpful to include this decision in your marital settlement or divorce decree, but the IRS allows changes in filing according to an agreement made after your divorce.

What happens if both parents claim the child on their taxes?

If you file your tax return and someone else has already claimed your child as a dependent, the IRS will usually apply “tiebreaker” rules to determine which party has the rightful claim. These rules may consider factors such as:

  • Who the child lived or resided with for a longer period of time during the tax year
  • Which parent has a higher adjusted gross income
  • The parent who has legal custody of the child

The particular criteria the IRS will apply could depend on your current marital status, how many children you have, who has custody of your child, and other factors. If you need help determining who will be able to claim your child based on the “tiebreaker” rules, it can be helpful to speak with an attorney about your options.

Can you amend your tax return if both parents claimed the same child?

If you learn that both parents have claimed the same child as a dependent in separate tax returns, either you or the other parent should file an amended return as soon as possible. When the child’s Social Security number appears on two different returns in the same year, it sends up a red flag.

Remember that the IRS can censure taxpayers for problems years after a return has been filed. When the IRS discovers a child has been claimed on two separate tax returns, one or both parents could face substantial penalties. To protect yourself and your child, it is wise to have your divorce lawyer negotiate a plan for claiming tax benefits and to review that plan with the other parent each year at tax time to avoid duplicate claims of tax credits or deductions.

Contact a family attorney for legal questions about your taxes during and after divorce

If you want to arrange to claim your child as a dependent, talk to a family lawyer at DiPietro Law Group, PLLC today. We can help answer your questions and get you on the right track to properly filing your tax return. To schedule a consultation, contact our office at (888) 530-4374.

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