Claiming A Dependent Dispute

Dependent Claim Dispute

There are situations when multiple parties claim the same dependent. For example, 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 a married couple filing jointly) may receive the tax benefits derived from claiming any one dependent. These tax benefits include the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, the Credit for Other Dependents, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, the Head of Household tax return filing status, and the exclusion for employer-provided child care benefits.

Only one taxpayer may 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. To avoid any of this conflict, utilize the eFile.com DEPENDucator or KIDucator to determine if you should claim someone on your 2020 Tax Return, due April 15, 2021.

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 that was issued after December 31, 2008, 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. If the decree was issued before January 1, 2009, the IRS will not accept it. However, if you are a noncustodial parent claiming the child as a dependent, you have two options:

  1. To identify any other eligible person who can claim the dependent and that you have a signed statement from the eligible person waiving his or her right to claim that person as a dependent, you can add Form 2120, Multiple Support Declaration to your 2020 Return in your eFile.com account. The easiest way to do this is by filing with eFile.com; the proper form will be generated and attached to your return for you. Otherwise, print your return and mail it to the IRS to file it.
  2. To release a claim of a child as a dependent so that a non-custodial parent can claim the child, or to revoke a previous release to claim a child as a dependent, you can complete Form 8332, Release Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent through an online editor and attach it, or a similar statement, to your mailed return. When filing with eFile.com, this form will be generated for you as you complete the tax interview.

How to File If Your Dependent(s) Have Been Claimed

Important: If you e-File your tax return and someone has already claimed one or more of your dependents, the IRS will reject your return, regardless whether you are using eFile.com or another platform. 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.
  • From your eFile.com account, click on My Account. There you can download your tax return PDF file. Then print and sign the IRS and state returns.
  • Mail your IRS return based on the address on your tax return. Find the state mailing address here.
  • Once the IRS has received your return, the IRS will apply the tiebreaker rules based on the criteria listed below.

TaxTip: This is a good reason to e-File 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 e-Filed 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 described below, and inform you of the results. This process may take 8-12 weeks.

How to File Your Tax Return with Your Dependent and IRS Tie-Breaker Rules

Follow these step-by-step instructions: 

  1. Find out who qualifies as your dependent by using our free DEPENDucator.
  2. If the tool shows that you do qualify to claim the dependent, but the IRS rejects your return because they already accepted another return claiming the same dependent, you will need to mail your return to the IRS. If you have a divorce decree issued before January 1, 2009 (or any other document proving that you can claim the dependent), attach the relevant pages of the decree, (including the first and signature pages) to your mailed return. Alternatively, you can add Form 2120 to your account on eFile.com or attach Form 8332 or a similar statement to your mailed return if you are a noncustodial parent claiming the child as a dependent. Click here for a full list of 2020 forms. Note: this applies if your return is rejected after filing. When filing with eFile.com, the forms will be generated for you based on the information provided before being filed with your 2020 Return.
  3. 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 will apply a set of tiebreaker rules to determine who has the right to claim the dependent. Once the IRS receives both returns claiming the same dependent, they will use the following tie-breaker rules: 
  • 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. 
  • Residence Test: If both taxpayers claiming the same child are parents 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.
  • 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).
  • No Parent Can Claim: If no parent qualifies to claim the child, the parent who has the highest AGI can claim the child. 
  • 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).
  • 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.

You Have Been Given the Right to Claim a Dependent

To identify any other eligible person who can claim the dependent and that you have a signed statement from the eligible person waiving his or her right to claim that person as a dependent, Form 2120, Multiple Support Declaration, will be added to your 2020 Tax Return when you prepare your return on eFile.com.

Giving Someone the Right to Claim the Child as a Dependent

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. The simplest way to proper the file form is by completing your 2020 Tax Return with eFile.com. From there, you can complete this form through an online editor, print it, and mail it with your completed return on eFile.com. Alternatively, this form will be sent along with Form 8453, U.S. Individual Income Tax Transmittal, for an IRS e-File 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.

If you only claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit for your child, but the IRS sends you an audit letter requesting more information from you, you will need to mail Form 886-H-EIC (details) and attach any documents in the form supporting your EITC claim. 

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

Additional Resources on Dependents

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