What If More than One Person Claims the Same Dependent?

There are situations, such as in the case of divorced parents, where a child may be claimed as a dependent by more than one person. Generally, only one person (or married couple filing jointly) may receive the tax benefits derived from claiming any one dependent.

These tax benefits include the dependency exemption, the Earned Income Credit, the Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, the Head of Household filing status, and the exclusion for employer-provided child care benefits.

Find out how to claim dependents

Can Two or More People (such as Divorced Parents) Claim the Same Child as a Dependent?

Only one taxpayer may generally claim any one person as a dependent on a tax return (except, of course, in the case of a married couple filing jointly). If you file your tax return and someone else has already claimed your dependent, then the IRS will apply the tiebreaker rules.

There may be an exception when the splitting of tax benefits for a dependent is detailed in a legal divorce decree. If you have such a decree, you will need to file your tax return on paper and attach the relevant pages of the divorce decree, including the first page and the signature page.

What If Someone Claimed My Dependent?

Has your efiled tax return come back rejected because someone else (such as an ex-spouse, grandparents, or another taxpayer) claimed your child as their dependent on their tax return? If you efile your tax return and someone has already claimed your dependent, the IRS will reject your return. This does not necessarily mean that you do not have the right to claim the dependent, but the IRS systems cannot apply the tiebreaker rules on an electronically filed return. If this is the case, you will need to mail your tax return to the IRS. If you prepare your return on efile.com, you can just print a completed copy from your account. The IRS will then be able to apply the tiebreaker rules.

TaxTip: This is a good reason to efile early. After a return claiming a particular dependent is accepted, any subsequent return that is electronically filed claiming them will be rejected by the IRS.

If your efiled return was rejected, but you believe the dependent qualifies as your dependent:

  1. Call the IRS support line at 1-800-829-1040 and inform them of the situation.
  2. Print your tax return from your efile.com account, sign it, attach any required forms, and mail it to the IRS.
  3. The IRS will examine both returns, apply the tiebreaker rules, and inform you of the results. This process may take 8-12 weeks.

What Are the Tie-Breaker Rules for Claiming a Child as a Dependent?

For situations where the same child may be eligible to be claimed as a dependent or qualifying child by more than one person, the IRS has established a set of tiebreaker rules to determine who has the right to claim the tax benefits.

Find out who qualifies as your dependent

The IRS tie-breaker rules are applied in the following order:

  1. Relationship Test: If only one of the taxpayers claiming the child is the child's parent, then the child will be the qualifying child of the parent.
  2. Residence Test: If both parents claim the child but do not file jointly, then the child will be the qualifying child of the parent with whom the child lived for a longer time during the year.
  3. Income Test: If the child lived with both parents for an equal amount of time, then the child will be the qualifying child of the parent with the higher adjusted gross income (AGI).
  4. No Parent Can Claim: If no parent qualifies to claim the child, the child will be the qualifying child of the person claiming the child who has the highest AGI.
  5. No Parent Chooses to Claim: If either parent qualifies to claim the child, but they choose not to, the child will be the qualifying child of the claiming person with the highest AGI, but only if their AGI is higher than that of either parent (if the parents are married and filing jointly, use one half of their combined AGI). 
  6. Special Rule for Unmarried Parents: If the parents are not married but lived together with their child all year and the child meets all qualifying tests for both parents, then the parents may decide which parent will claim the child as a dependent.

How Do I Give My Ex-Spouse the Right to Claim the Child as a Dependent?

Release of Claim to Exemption for Child of Divorced Parents (Form 8332)

Because of the second tiebreaker rule (residence), the parent who has legal custody of a child is generally the parent who gets to claim the child in cases of divorced or separated parents. If you are the custodial parent and you wish to relinquish your dependency exemption and assign it to the non-custodial parent, you may do so by filing Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent.

If you efile with efile.com, you can simply fill out this form online and efile it along with your tax return. The non-custodial parent in this situation should obtain a copy of the completed form from the custodial parent and attach it to their tax return, which they will need to paper file.

If, at any time, you change your mind and wish to revoke your release of claim, you can simply file another Form 8332.

Should you require further assistance, please contact efile.com support.

 

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