Claiming A Dependent Dispute
There are situations when multiple parties claim the same dependent. For example, in the case of divorced parents, 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:
Who Can Claim A Dependent?
Generally, 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 - see details below. To avoid any of this conflict, utilize the eFile.com DEPENDucator to determine if you are eligible to claim someone on your 2020 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 efiling their return after you claiming 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).
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:
- Multiple Support Declaration: To identify any other eligible person who can claim the dependent, you will need a signed statement from the eligible person waiving his or her right to claim that person as a dependent before you can add Form 2120, Multiple Support Declaration, when you prepare and eFile your tax return on eFile.com. If you already filed your return, you may need to submit Form 2120 via postal mail to the IRS. 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 tie-breaker rules below.
- Release of Claim to Exemption for Child: You or the other party can transfer the right to claim a child as a dependent. 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. The Form 8332 can NOT be eFiled with your tax return on eFile.com. The non-custodial parent in this situation should also 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 you change your mind at any time and wish to revoke your release of claim, you can simply file another Form 8332. Include Form 8453, U.S. Individual Income Tax Transmittal when you mail in your tax return with Form 8332 to the IRS.
Should these options not apply to you, please consider the following steps.
What If Your Dependent(s) Have Been Claimed
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 his or her tax return. Keep in mind, an accepted tax return is not a guarantee to have the right to claim the dependents on that return.
Steps to Take After Somebody Incorrectly or Fraudulently Claimed Your Dependent(s)
Let's say you prepared and e-Filed your tax return and the IRS rejected it with the message that one or more dependents have been claimed on another taxpayer's tax return. Or, you received IRS Notice CP87A or CP75A because the IRS received a tax return from somebody claiming a qualifying child as a dependent with the same social security number as a dependent listed on your tax return.
General information on fraudulent tax returns: If you think you are a victim of identify theft, you can request a copy of a fraudulent return via Form 4506-F.
The steps below apply if a tax return incorrectly claimed your dependent(s) or if you claimed dependents incorrectly.
- Find out who qualifies as your dependent by using our free DEPENDucator tool.
- If you used eFile.com when you completed your taxes, a PDF copy of your return is stored in your eFile.com account. Sign in and click on My Account before you download, print, and sign your IRS and state tax returns.
- Gather dependent supporting documents about your dependent(s) and complete Form 866-H-Dep.
- If you have a divorce decree, attach the relevant pages of the decree (including the first and signature pages) to your mailed return.
- For example, you might also have to include copies of (have them notarized) daycare records, school records on official letterhead from a school, medical records from the medical provider, social service records from the social service agency, information from the place of worship that shows names, and common addresses and dates. Include a letter with any other information you think would assist the IRS.
- Gather your printed tax return, income and deduction forms (W-2, 1099, etc.), and Form 866-H-Dep. Then, mail in all your documents to the IRS based on the address on your tax return. If you also have to send your return to one or more state tax agencies, find the state mailing address here. TaxTip: It is best if you use a U.S. Postal Office tracker to confirm that the IRS has received your documents.
- If you only claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit for your child, but the IRS has sent you an audit letter requesting more information from you, you will need to mail Form 886-H-EIC and attach any documents in the form supporting your EITC claim. Use this EICucator tool.
- Once the IRS has received your documents, they will examine both returns - the return with the claimed dependent(s) and yours - and apply the tiebreaker rules based on the criteria listed below. The process might take 8-12 weeks, or longer.
If you found out that you claimed a dependent incorrectly on an IRS accepted tax return, you will need to file a tax amendment or form 1040-X and remove the dependent from your tax return.
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.
IRS Tiebreaker Rules
Under the IRS tiebreaker rules, the child is generally considered a qualifying child if the following apply:
- A married couple or parents prepare and eFile or file a married joint tax return and claim the child a qualifying dependent.
- Only one parent of the couple, who is also the child's parent, claims the child as a qualifying child or dependent.
- If the child has two persons as parents and the two persons do NOT file a married joint return, then the parent with whom the child lived or resided with for the longer time period during a tax year will be qualified to claim the dependent.
- If the child lived or resided with each parent the same amount of time during the tax year, the parent with the highest adjusted gross income or AGI will be able to claim the dependent, if there is no married joint return and both parents claim the child on their respective return.
- If no parent claims the child as a qualifying child, then the person with the highest AGI qualifies over any parent who may have been able to claim the child, such as a qualifying step-parent or relative.
- 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.
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 include documents that show you do not qualify as a dependent (rent payments showing you pay for your expenses, residency statements, etc.). 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 2020 forms is by completing your 2020 Tax Return with eFile.com. You can eFile 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 if you use a U.S. Postal Office tracker 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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