What If Someone Has Claimed Your Dependent?
Claiming a dependent has many ways to save on taxes which is why there are many annual cases of wrongly claimed dependents. These tax benefits include:
Who Can Claim a Dependent?
Generally, only one taxpayer may claim any one person as a dependent on a tax return per tax year (except 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 to determine if you are eligible to claim someone on your current year tax return, due on Tax Day. You can also eFileIT, including the Multiple Support Declaration Form 2120 - see 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 the dependent will be rejected by the IRS. However, having an IRS accepted return with a dependent is not a confirmation that this taxpayer is qualified to claim this dependent. In other words, if you e-filed your return with the dependents listed on your return, anybody else e-filing their return after you claimed the same dependent(s) will have their return rejected. However, if another return claiming the same dependent(s) is filed manually (mailed in), then the IRS will apply the tie-breaker rules - see details below.
Here are a few key points regarding wrongly claimed dependents:
- When e-filing your return, be sure the SSN for your dependent is being entered correctly. This will prevent you from accidentally claiming someone's dependent - it does happen! - and it will make sure you are not trying to claim the wrong person.
- Additionally, double check your own SSN if your return is rejected by the IRS as a duplicate.
- A dependent's SSN can be claimed once per tax year.
- The IRS cannot disclose which of your dependents has been claimed nor who claimed them.
- Once your dependent's SSN has been accepted on a return, you can no longer e-file your return and claim them, even if the other party amends their return.
- This is because by the time the IRS processes this amendment, the e-file season will be over.
- If both parties can cooperate, however, it is ideal that the party who wrongly claimed the dependent files an amendment and the second party mails in their return.
- The IRS will send you a notice CP87A, CP75A, or other letter explaining that there is a dispute with your dependent's SSN.
- Both you and the other party generally receive a CP87A. The wrongly claiming party will be asked to comply by amending their return while the correct party is instructed not to take any additional action. Receiving this notice is not the same as being audited by the IRS.
- If you received this notice even though you did not file a tax return claiming a dependent, contact the number listed on the notice - see more IRS contact numbers here.
- The entire process can take 8 - 12 weeks as the IRS gathers information to examine results from both returns.
- Determine who qualifies as your dependent and e-file your return early next year to secure your dependent's information.
Children of Divorced or Separated Parents
Due to the residency test for parents of dependents, a child of divorced or separated parents is the qualifying child of the custodial parent in general. However, the following exceptions might apply and a child will be treated as the qualifying child of the noncustodial parent if all four of the following statements are true.
1: The parents:
- Are divorced or legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance
- Are separated under a written separation agreement; or
- Lived apart at all times during the last 6 months of the year, whether or not they are or were married.
2. The child received over half of the child’s support for the year from the parents.
3. The child is in the custody of one or both parents for more than half of the year.
4. Either of the following statements is true.
- a. The custodial parent signs a written declaration, discussed later, that they won't claim the child as a dependent for the year, and the noncustodial pa- rent attaches this written declaration to their return. (If the decree or agreement went into effect after 1984 and before 2009, see Post-1984 and pre-2009 divorce decree or separation agreement, later. If the decree or agreement went into effect after 2008, see Post-2008 divorce decree or separation agreement, later.)
- b. A decree of divorce or separate maintenance or written separation agreement prior to 1985 that applies to this year states that the noncustodial parent can claim the child as a dependent, the decree or agreement wasn't changed after 1984 to say the noncustodial parent can't claim the child as a dependent, and the noncustodial parent provides at least $600 for the child's support during the year If statements (1) through (4) are all true, only the noncustodial parent can:
Claim the child as a dependent; and claim the child as a qualifying child for the child tax credit, the credit for other dependents, or the additional child tax credit.
However, this doesn’t allow the noncustodial parent to claim head of household filing status, the credit for child and dependent care expenses, the exclusion for dependent care benefits, or the earned income credit. For more details see the IRS tiebreaker rules below.
What to Do If Your Dependent(s) Have Been Claimed
Wrongly claiming a dependent is not considered fraud or tax evasion if the guilty party does not demonstrate willfulness. In other words, if the wrongly claiming person knows they are breaking the law, then this could be fraud; if they mistakenly claim someone's dependent and want to fix this, the IRS does not consider this fraud.
Instead of trying to report this to the IRS, review these steps if you e-filed your tax return and it got rejected by the IRS because somebody, such as an ex-spouse or as a result of identity theft, has already claimed one or more of your dependents on a tax return. Keep in mind, an accepted tax return is not a guarantee to have the right to claim the dependents on that return.
While there are many cases of identity theft of dependents, most cases of wrongly claimed dependents are committed by family members, relatives, and ex-spouses. If your ex claimed your dependent on their return when you had the right to this year, this can lead to legal problems as the dependent benefits cannot be split.
If you and your ex alternate years, be sure you both only claim the child as a dependent when it is your year. Otherwise, you will both need to work with the IRS in order to settle the dispute by mailing forms and documents back and forth. When someone claims your dependent with malicious intent (i.e. to take advantage of dependent tax breaks and take them from you), then you are forced to rely on the IRS to handle this. You may be requested to send proof of dependency documents; communicate and work with the IRS to rightfully claim your dependent.
There is no direct way to report the person to the IRS; instead, you will need to file your return on paper to alert them of the matter.
- Generally, a custodial parent claims a child as a dependent based on the residency test. If someone has claimed your dependent on their tax return and now your either can't e-file your tax return and your return got rejected, follow these steps to correct this.
At any time, contact us here at eFile.com or call the IRS support line at 1-800-829-1040 and inform them of the situation. Or, take advantage of low-income tax clinics if this applies to you. Note: if you did not file your latest tax return with us, we will not have specific information regarding your situation.
If you think you are a victim of identity theft, you can request a copy of a fraudulent return via Form 4506-F.
IRS Tiebreaker Rules
- Applying the tiebreaker rules to divorced or separated parents or parents who live apart. If a child is treated as the qualifying child of the noncustodial parent under the rules for children of divorced or separated parents - or parents who live apart - then only the noncustodial parent can claim the child tax credit or the credit for other dependents for the child.
- However, the custodial parent, if eligible, or other eligible person can claim the child as a qualifying child for head of household filing filing status, the credit for child and dependent care expenses, the exclusion for dependent care benefits, and the earned income credit. If the child is a qualifying child of more than one person for these benefits, then the tie- breaker rules determine whether the custodial parent or another eligible person can treat the child as a qualifying child.
- If the parents don’t file a joint return together but both can claim the child as a qualifying child and 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. You may alternate years, but you may not both claim the dependent in a single tax year. Generally, only one person (or a married couple filing jointly) may receive the tax benefits derived from claiming any one dependent. If both two taxpayers e.g. mother and grandmother of a qualified child claim a dependent usually the taxpayer with the higher AGI will be able to claim the child or dependent.
- Follow these application instructions to claim a dependent who has already been claimed by another taxpayer so the IRS can review if the tie-breaker rule applies. Detailed overviews for divorced or separated individuals and IRS tie-breaker rules and on qualified Dependents on a Tax Return
- 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 these options. Have the custodial parent release the dependent via Form 8332 or via IRS Form 2210 - Multiple Support Declaration.
What If I Was Falsely Claimed as a Dependent?
If you e-filed a return and it was rejected by the IRS who stated your social security number has been claimed on a tax return for that year, there are some steps to take, depending on the situation.
If you know who claimed you: You should get in contact with them as soon as possible. If a parent or guardian, for example, claimed you on their return when they were not supposed to, they would have to amend their return. The IRS will have to process their amended return before your SSN can be used on your own return. Likely, to meet the tax day deadline, you will have to prepare and mail your return so you do not face any late penalties. If they amend their return, this goes much quicker than if they refuse.
If you do not know who claimed you or they will not cooperate: You will have to paper file your return. Use your identity as normal and mail in your prepared return. You will want to gather documents that show you do not qualify as a dependent (rent payments showing you pay for your expenses, residency statements, etc.) because, once processed, the IRS will contact you via letter requesting additional information - they will also write to the taxpayer who claimed you. The IRS will request that the return(s) be amended to reflect the actual situation. If the wrongdoing party does not comply, this may result in an IRS audit for both returns. You and the taxpayer who claimed you will have to prove your dependency status.
The simplest way to prepare all your forms is by completing your tax return with eFile.com. You can e-file your return or mail it in case it got rejected due to another person claiming your dependents. Make sure you include the appropriate forms with your mail package to the IRS.
TaxTip: It is best keep copies of all documents you send to the IRS and use a U.S. Postal Office tracker service to confirm that the IRS has received your documents.
Should you require further assistance, please contact eFile.com support or call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. You might also be able to take advantage of a low income taxpayer clinic. More details on how low-income taxpayer clinics work.
Additional resources regarding dependents and alimony payments:
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