Claiming a Dependent Dispute
Did someone claim your dependent even though you have determined that you are the only person who should claim them? See the steps to take on wrongly claimed dependents.
Important: Protect your Dependent with an IP-PIN (Identity Protection - Personal Identification Number) either for this tax year or next year. This will prevent any unauthorized person e.g. ex-spouse, partner, family member etc. to claim your qualified dependent on their tax return(s). In order to do so, you must be the person who is qualified to claim the dependent and you must obtain the IP-PIN.
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:
If someone claimed your dependent on your latest return, find out what you can do below. See also: What if I was wrongly claimed as a dependent?
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 - 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 2022 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.
- Only one dependent's SSN can be claimed 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, generally a child of divorced or separated parents is the qualifying child of the custodial parent. 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.
A: The parents:
- Are divorced or legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance
- Are separated under a written separa- tion 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 2022 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.
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.
The steps below apply if someone 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.
- Supporting documents might include 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 and get any of these notarized if possible.
- If you have a divorce decree, attach the relevant pages of the decree (including the first and signature pages) to your mailed return.
- 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 the IRS contacts you for additional information (CP78A, etc.), respond to their notices as soon as possible.
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. 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
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. 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.
Under the IRS tiebreaker rules, the child is generally considered a qualifying child if the following apply:
- A married couple or parents 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.
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 e-filed 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.
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 2022 forms is by completing your 2022 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 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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