Yes, you can.
Your filing status is determined in large part by your marital status on the last day of the year. Generally, if you are legally married on December 31st, you are considered married for the whole year for tax purposes. However, there is an important exception for couples who are separated.
Married Filing Separately vs. Head of Household
Separated couples have two options when it comes to their filing status. If the couples are separated, but their divorce is not yet final, then they have to choose between filing a joint return or a separate return. Generally speaking, I advise such couples to file separate returns.
However, some people are entitled to file as Head of Household. According to IRS Publication 504, you can file as head of household if you meet three criteria:
- You are "considered unmarried,"
- You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year, and
- A "qualifying person" (usually a dependent) lived with you for more than half the year.
In order to be considered unmarried, the separated couples must have lived apart from each other for the last six months of the year (or more). There's acutally five criteria for being "considered unmarried" by the IRS.
- You file a separate tax return.
- You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home.
- Your spouse did not live with you during the last six months of the year.
- Your home was the main home of your child.
- You can claim at least one child as a dependent.
A qualifying person is a child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child whom you can claim as a dependent. You will need to review the new rules for claiming a dependent to determine if you qualify to claim your child.
There's an important exception to the dependent criteria. If you have a court-approved agreement that gives the non-custodial parent the right to claim the child as a dependent, then you (the custodial parent) could still file as Head of Household.
- IRS Publication 504, Tax Guide for Divorced and Separated Individuals
- IRS Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Status Information