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William Perez

Can One Spouse Claim Another Spouse as a Dependent?

By June 29, 2009

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People often ask if the husband, or wife, can claim the other spouse as a dependent. The following scenario that was emailed to me pretty much outlines the basic situation:

"My husband is the only earning member & he supports all our expenses. For the tax year 2009 can my husband claim me & my children as dependants?"

Spouses are not dependents of each other. Instead, husbands and wives can choose either to file a joint tax return or to file two separate returns. Filing jointly provides you with two personal exemptions for the husband and wife, plus one personal exemption for each dependent. Filing jointly also provides a standard deduction of $11,400 for 2009. You can also itemize, if that figure will be higher than your standard deduction.

How do all these numbers work together? These standardized about are tax deductions you can take, which reduce your income before any tax is calculated. Or to phrase it another way, these deductions create a zero-percent tax bracket for you. For a married couple with no dependents, their first $18,700 of income is tax free. After that, their income would start being taxed using various tax rates.

Generally, taxes are lower when filing jointly, as the tax brackets are much wider (thereby allowing more income to be taxed at lower rates) and joint filers are eligible for a wider range of tax deductions and credits.

December 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm
(1) Bryant green says:

I have two questions the first question is the year of 2012 how much will i get to claim one child.And can i claim my wife or can my wife claim me.

January 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm
(2) Ben says:

Bryant, this article explains that you don’t claim your wife as a dependent. Just your child. You can file a joint return with your wife, using both of your tax/working info. I recommend H&R Block online.

January 24, 2012 at 12:41 am
(3) mother of two with unemployed husband says:

ok… I have two kids and a husband that has been unemployed for the whole year. Can i file him as a dependant since I have taken care of him the whole year? please reply!!!

January 24, 2012 at 12:54 am
(4) LIZ says:


January 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm
(5) Lashawn says:

You can’t claim them as a dependent but you can file head of house and making them exempt. This is only if the spouse can’t file a return or have no income.

January 27, 2012 at 9:46 am
(6) jenn says:

If I only worked two weeks the whole 2012 year only brought home 400 dollars maybe what would be the best way for my husband and I to file with our one child

January 28, 2012 at 11:03 pm
(7) Davis says:

Even if you are in the military, there are no exemptions?

January 31, 2012 at 6:46 pm
(8) bts says:

The article plainly says you claim one exemption for the husband, one for the wife and one for each dependent.
So yes you can claim your spouse according to this article.

February 1, 2012 at 1:48 am
(9) summer says:

so… just to clarify… a working mom and unemployed husband can file separately- mother as head of household and husband on his own. or would it be better to file together with mother as head of household and husband as a dependent?! we have 4 children, and they would all be deductions of the mother.


February 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm
(10) Pujah says:

Summer… if you husband was unemployed the entire year of 2011 and had $0 income, he does not need to file his own return at all (0 income = 0 income tax). Thus it would be best to file a joint return with the mother as head of household and thus you get an exemption for the husband and also for each child. If you file “separately” (basically your husband doesn’t file a return), you would have one less exemption due to the fact your husband isn’t listed on the return. Thus, file jointly. I believe there is confusion for alot of people in the difference between the terms “exemption” and “dependent”.

February 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm
(11) Veronica says:

I was thinking that I could claim my incomeless spouse but I’m glad I researched it. Isaac hoping there’d be something I could get for carrying him all year.

February 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm
(12) Veronica says:

I was thinking that I could claim my incomeless spouse but I’m glad I researched it. I was hoping there’d be something I could get for carrying him all year.

February 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm
(13) Veronica says:

I meant I was. Not Isaac. Also, itpossible to file HOH and claim spouse exempt without the fear of your return being offset by a debt they may have?

February 2, 2012 at 7:59 pm
(14) Bells says:

Me and my husband has been separated for more then have a year and our daughter has been with me during that time as well. Can he still claim our daughter as a dependent even though he wasn’t taking care of her most of the year? Is there a way to stop him?

February 2, 2012 at 8:03 pm
(15) Bells says:

Can my husband claim our daughter as a dependent even though he wasn’t taking care of her more then half the year. We were separated and he wants to claim her can he do that? Can I stop him or still claim her after he has done it and he pay it back?

February 3, 2012 at 9:45 pm
(16) Joshua says:

If everyone is so confused on the subject at hand, then I highly suggest that you do taxes in-person. You arrived at this page, probably via search engine, to find out about the subject. Why take advice from someone that also came to this same page looking for the same information. It’s the blind leading the blind. If you understand, great! If not, avoid an audit, and go in-person.

February 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm
(17) Laurie says:

I am really curious as to couples who are not yet divorced/legally separated and have not lived together for over a year. My boyfriend, with whom I have lived for the majority of the year and has fully supported me, attempted to claim me as a dependent on his taxes but was denied because someone else had claimed me. I also have a child who lives with me for a few days longer than my ex has him every other week. Technically speaking, I have him around 30 weeks out of the year. The child was also claimed…though the ex lied about him not being able to claim him. I honestly have no idea about taxes within my situation…and info could help me out….

February 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm
(18) Chad says:

My wife and I have two kids. Can both of us claim the kids when filling out the W2 or just one of us? What I mean is can we both be Married 3 or should I claim 1 and she claims 1?

February 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm
(19) Chad says:

My wife and I have two kids. Can both of us claim the kids when filling out the W2 or just one of us? What I mean is can we both be Married 3 or should I claim 1 and she claims 1?

February 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm
(20) William Perez says:

Chad, basically you and your wife have 3 personal exemptions between the two of you. For withholding purposes, you can split this up any way you find beneficial, such as 0 & 3, 1 & 2, 1 & 1, 2 & 1, or 3 & 0.

February 21, 2012 at 1:33 am
(21) Terri says:

My ex is married (to another woman) and owes a great deal in child support. Can she claim him as a dependent so his tax return will not get taken away? Or can hers be taken if filing joint since he owes?

February 21, 2012 at 3:17 am
(22) William Perez says:

A person cannot claim his or her spouse as a dependent. Spouses may file separately (as separate taxpayers, each responsible for his or her own tax obligations) or may file jointly (with each being responsible jointly and severally for their combined tax obligations). The debtor spouse in the situation you described, Terri, will have his tax refund confiscated and utilized to pay any known debts for which the US Treasury acts as a collection agent, such as child support in arrears. If the debtor spouse files jointly, then his spouse’s refund (which was a joint refund) will also be offset and used to pay child support debts unless the non-debtor spouse files a timely injured spouse claim.

June 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm
(23) Nikki says:

I have a question. I’m a full time student with no income. My husband is the only one who works and we have three kids. Could my husband still claim me as exempt if I get school grants?

June 2, 2012 at 12:25 am
(24) William Perez says:

Nikki, you and your husband could file a joint tax return.

August 3, 2012 at 2:31 am
(25) ConfusedHOH says:

I’m Fully aware of the difference between dependent and exemption, therefor can you please help my little confused self in ummmm middle class secretary terminology :)

My husband does not work I do everything, he had a part time Job for like 3 months. Would in; your opinion, it be better for us to file separately or joint? Which way will I get more money back? Please keep in mind I get nothing back or if i do it’s like 100$. I have no kiddos it’s just us. No home, no new car, etc. and we just got married 2 months ago.
Please please please advice. H&r block suck :( sorry.

August 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm
(26) William Perez says:

Hello, ConfusedHOH, and thanks for asking your question. You have two basic options: you can file jointly with your husband, or you can file your own separate return. By filing jointly, you will be combining your income and your husband’s income, taking two personal exemptions (one for each of you), and the standard deduction for joint filers. By contrast, filing separately you’ll report only your own income, take one personal exemption (for yourself only), and the standard deduction for separate filers. The best way to decide is to create a few draft tax returns and compare them. For example, if your and your husband’s financial situation is similar as last year, you could create a sample tax return using last year’s data pretending that you were married and filing jointly. You can do this fairly easily using any of the online tax software programs. In particular, you could start a draft return with just your own income and using the married-filing-separate status, and see how that comes out. And then you can go back and add in your husband, change to married filing jointly, and add in his income, and then see how that joint return looks.

September 23, 2012 at 9:16 am
(27) Quadmom says:

So, my husband and I were just married in April 2012. He didn’t return to work until March of this year and makes quite a bit less than me. We have 4 children and he has one from a previous relationship he pays support for but became slightly in arrears when he was laid off up until March. He’s paying it off but its doubtful it will be below 2K at tax time. I know I can file injuredspouse, but with this being our first joint return, I’m assuming I file head of household and the dependants are not split up because its a joint return? Sorry if this sounds ignorant-as previously stated, we have never filed a joint return before.

October 9, 2012 at 12:42 pm
(28) Gary says:

My same-sex spouse can’t be claimed as a spouse on my federal taxes. We cannot file jointly.

He has no income. Can I claim him as a dependent?

November 28, 2012 at 8:43 am
(29) Anette says:

Can I file as Head of Household if I am married but my husband was unemployed in the year i’m filing taxes for and had $0 income??

December 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm
(30) Kimmie says:


Unmarried couple, he provides for her – she received unemployment for about 7 months, which paid some child support toward the 2 kids living with their father for the year. Currently, she owes arrears for child support. Can the boyfriend claim his girlfriend as a dependent so he doesn’t have to owe taxes which would avoid a refund – so that father doesn’t get paid arrears that are due?

December 17, 2012 at 9:53 pm
(31) lisa says:

I work and I got married this year but we have been together for two years. And he receive a ssid. check can I carry him on my income return this year.

December 26, 2012 at 11:15 am
(32) Aaron says:

i just got married dec 21st. im in the military. my wife doesnt have job for the whole year but she went to school. can we file tax return together? or is it better if she file her own?

second one is my dad lives with me on my apartment, he doesn’t work either but he get some food stamp from the government. can i claim my dad as dependent?

thanks alot.

January 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm
(33) Mike says:

Hi my wife and I have 2 children, I haven’t worked all year 0 income! She made around 8000 plus went to school full time ! How should we file to get the maximum return?

January 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm
(34) teressa says:

My son dad on child support he get paid under the table i think his wife been claiming him as a depended who do i need to talk to to get my child support from him because hes behind 30 thousand dollars
And do i need to put her on child support

January 20, 2013 at 11:45 am
(35) KLD says:

This year – 2012- my b.f. moved in. He’s a part-time student. He also has shared custody of his 18 month old daughter. I am the ‘breadwinner’ and have a 13 yr old with a recognized disability whom I parent full-time – sole custody.
What are my partner’s and my best options when completing our taxes?
Any info would be so helpful.
Oh….I’m in Canada :)

January 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm
(36) Cecily says:

How do I file my taxes to get the most refund?
My husband did not work this year, so I cant claim him as a dependant as you have said, we have no children yet. Do I file joint or seperate or head of house hold? Please help me. Im pregnant 5months and we need this money.

January 28, 2013 at 6:31 pm
(37) Cortney says:

This is my 1st time doing taxes so i need some help pleaae…i have 3 dependents…i worked until may then was laid off and got Unemployment …my husband has no income…how wld we file to receive the mist back? Married jointly. Separate. Single..head if house..just nedd some help so i dont mess up…

January 28, 2013 at 8:00 pm
(38) John says:

Everyone asking if they can claim “Head of Household” when they are MARRIED, but their spouse didn’t work during the year:

The 2012 Federal Tax Form 1040 instructions clearly state, regarding taking the “Head of Household” status, that it is for UNMARRIED individuals who provide a home for certain individuals. There are minor exceptions to this, but they have to do with divorce/legal separation, living apart for the last 6 months of the year, and marriage to a nonresident alien. (If any of these are your situation, you should consult a tax professional or read the 1040 instruction book for further clarification.)

But, the bottom line–in most cases–NO, you cannot claim “Head of Household” for your spouse who did not work during the year.

January 31, 2013 at 12:14 pm
(39) Vanessa says:

I have a question, me and my husband filed jointly with his w2. The lady that did our taxes didnt ask for my w2 and neither did the H&R block lady the year before. What am I suppose to do with my w2? Are we doing it wrong?… I just dont want us to get audited later on. please help

January 31, 2013 at 7:44 pm
(40) xander says:

My wife didn’t work at all this year. I was the only one working. Can we still do it jointly? What is the best thing to do?

January 31, 2013 at 9:57 pm
(41) Natilia says:

My boyfriend gets ssi but is in jail can I claim him or will the state claim him

February 1, 2013 at 10:13 am
(42) LPNwife says:

Lets say i have earned 42000 and paid in 4200. My husband earned 6000 and paid in 700. My brother who is 24 and my mother live with us. My husband is fulltime student as of past sept in which we pay for his school. We would file married and jointly with 2 dependents, correct?

February 1, 2013 at 10:18 am
(43) dad999 says:

My wife and i both have earned income. An adult sibling not in college and a parent live with us. So do we could claim 2 dependents since neither work?

February 1, 2013 at 10:04 pm
(44) Lorraine says:

So i just got married 12/20/2012, i just graduated college in May 2012. My husband can claim myself, but my question is ” can he also claim MY KIDS?” He wasn’t living with me yet because of section 8 and i’m collecting footsteps, but he does pay for whatever else my kids need. Everything for school, clothes, etc. Their fathers don’t pay for anything for them, not even childsupport. Any advice??? Help

February 4, 2013 at 6:32 pm
(45) lupe says:

me and my husband got married February 10 2012.this is our 1st year claiming as married.I didn’t make as much as him.he made 26,427.00 and I made about 3750.00.and we also have a 4year old. um jointly it would b about 30,177.00 .should we claim jointly or separately.

February 8, 2013 at 10:59 am
(46) mwalkerwade says:

Thank you John (#38) for finally clearly stating the real regulation about spousal dependents and head of household status. — The IRS is out to get people who do these erroneous filings whether you do it unknowingly or not.

Vanessa (#39) if you’ve got a w-2, give it to the tax preparer. Don’t wait to be asked for it. When the preparer finishes preparing the taxes, ask him/her to show you where your name, ssn, and w-2 income is located on the actual tax papers, and then compare it to the info on your w-2.

Natalia (#41) you cannot claim someone in jail as a dependent. You are not providing more than 50% of the cost for his shelter, food, health and welfare; the State is doing this using our tax dollars.

And for all other MARRIED people questioning whether you should file joint or separate – there are RARE occassions when it’s more advantageous to file separate. Filing separate does not mean filing Head of Household – that would be fraud (see comment 38). In most cases you’re better off filing a joint return with your unemployed spouse as your SPOUSE – not a dependent; that would be fraud too.

February 9, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Y’all need to check Publication 17. It IS possible to take a spouse as a dependent. However, ONLY if the spouse has ZERO income and the return is Married Filing Separately.

February 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm
(48) mwalkerwade says:

The line in Publication 17 TEXASTAXLADY (#47) is referring to says: “You can claim an EXEMPTION for your spouse only if your spouse had no gross income, is not filing a return, and was not the dependent of another person” (see the section titled Married Filing Separately, Pub 17).

The key word here is EXEMPTION. Yes you can still claim the personal exemption for your spouse; but this is not the same as the “dependency exemption”.

If you check out IRS Publication 501 (under the section called EXEMPTIONS) you will see the explanation for two types of exemptions:

Types of exemptions. There are two types of exemptions you may be able to take:
Personal exemptions for yourself and your spouse, and
Exemptions for dependents (dependency exemptions).

IRS Publication 501 goes on to further explain the following, in which it explicitly states: “Your spouse is NEVER considered your dependent”

Personal Exemptions
You are generally allowed one exemption for yourself. If you are married, you may be allowed one exemption for your spouse. These are called personal exemptions.

Your Own Exemption
You can take one exemption for yourself unless you can be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer. If another taxpayer is entitled to claim you as a dependent, you cannot take an exemption for yourself even if the other taxpayer does not actually claim you as a dependent.

Your Spouse’s Exemption
Your spouse is never considered your dependent

— I have provided you with direct information from IRS Publication 17 and Publication 501. You can read if for yourself :
1. Go to http://www.irs.gov
2. Click on Forms & Pubs
3. Click on Current Forms & Pubs
4. Scroll down to Pub 17 (or Pub 501 which is on page 2 of the list)
5. Once you open Pub 17 go to page 22. Once you open Pub 501 go to page 9 – 10

February 13, 2013 at 5:45 am
(49) walter says:

Can some one help me underatand a lil tax stuff ive never filed before i am married my wife never worked and we have 2 kids and im disabled i only worked 4 weeks 40 hours a week making 7.25/hr i understand only i file i cant claim her just hoh and i can claim my kids and i prob wont get much back for working i need to know wat u generally get for kids in 2012 and does me getting ssi affect taxes

February 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm
(50) rocklin97 says:

My husband worked a lot of OT this year, and we grossed $25K more than usual. Although, you would never know it with his take home pay.

In any event the tax calculators out there have me very stressed out as they state that we will owe anywhere from $3-2500 just for Federal Taxes this year.

I am curious… Are the two exemptions for us being married already logged into those on-line Tax Refund Calculators when you plug in your income and deductions? If so, then we are really in for a rough patch to pay this year’s tax bill.

Please advise.

February 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm
(51) This mom needs help says:

My baby’s father owes a lot of child support. He goes to school full-time and does not have income coming in. However, with the school credit I know he is getting back money and he is being filed as a dependent. Can the IRS take the partial refund for arrears?

February 24, 2013 at 9:02 pm
(52) Krystal says:

If my boyfriend and I have been living together for the past 2 years and he’s a full time student that only worked for a semester at his school, can he be claimed as a dependent? He has a W2 for $400 too. I was told that in the future if we were to get married, and file together, then I would be audited because you cannot marry a “dependent”.

March 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm
(53) Jen says:

Mwalkerwade- In that instance, to claim the stay at home spouse as an exemption, would it be one of the rare occasions when it would be best to file separately?

We are using H&R Block software, for which we’ve already paid. Last year, we filed jointly. Nothing has changed in our situation but for some reason, this year we are paying much more in taxes. I am confused and wondering if the software would automatically claim the stay at home spouse as a personal exemption. (It did not ask how many exemptions we would claim specifically.)

I kind of feel like we’d be better off just learning the tax code and doing them ourselves in the future….

March 5, 2013 at 8:33 pm
(54) Hadden says:

I don’t want to sound rude here, but come on guys this stuff is common sense. Tax software is so simple these days my 9 year old could do it. There are very few instances where a married couple would not want to file jointly. You put yourself in a better tax bracket open up more exemptions for yourself and give yourself a better return. Check out some of these free trials on tax software, or use a refund calculator by searching google. It will give you an idea of your return. Do it different ways. Check what it would be to file separately/jointly, and then make your decision off of that. All my fellow people in the military. Most bases have places set up that will do your taxes for free. Or hit up military one source. If you register with them you can use H&R Block at home for free. It walks you through step by step.

May 31, 2013 at 3:20 am
(55)  says:

Hello, I wish for to subscribe for this web site to obtain most recent updates, therefore where can i do it please
help out.

May 31, 2013 at 6:11 pm
(56) William Perez says:
July 8, 2013 at 5:20 pm
(57) KD says:

My daughter is married to an active military member, even though she is his spouse, can he still claim her as a dependent? Can I still claim her as a dependent?

January 1, 2014 at 4:05 pm
(58) isaac says:

So I have had my wife as a dependent since january on my pay stubs. Meaning I told my boss to put me with a dependent when I got married thinking a wife is a dependent , so that they take less taxes every week from our paycheck. Now when I file online I’m going to change that to no dependents but am I going to get in trouble? If so how can I not get in trouble.

January 2, 2014 at 8:42 pm
(59) WWalk200p says:

I understand the fact that filing jointly offers me a higher deduction, therefore just makes sense. However, my husband had zero income in 2013 (illness) and he owes a substantial amount of back child support. Last year, 2012, the IRS intercepted my entire refund of almost 6k. Will they again intercept MY refund if we file jointly? Considering he had no income, the refund is my hard earned money. Any expertise or experience with a situation such as this?

January 5, 2014 at 4:44 pm
(60) Coleigh says:

My husband and I have six children all together. He has two daughters and I have four sons. My husband was out of work for over a year because of a severe medical condition that prevented him to do anything physical. He has had such a hard time finding a job that he decided to go to college and get a degree. Well because he only has a few classes left till he graduates he decided he would take those classes and work for a temp agency. Well we are still struggling and it sucks and to top it off his child support is still building up and we have them over 80% of the time. Anyways I know this is not a ranting post so here is my question: Since my husband has been working for the past 7 months he will be filing taxes. I have not worked for 3 years because I have been a full time college student, so I have been focusing on college, student teaching and being a mom to 6 children. If my husband files and claims my children (his step children)….Does that mean that the EIC he gets because of my 4 children will be directed to his ex wife? I really don’t like the idea of my husband getting thousands of dollars because of my children and it going and benefitting his ex wife. Its not really all that fair for her to get money that was only possible because of my children. I just hate the idea of her getting all that money for the girls when we are the ones that have the girls all the darn time. Any suggestions please please please.
thank you.

January 7, 2014 at 2:16 am
(61) William Perez says:

Coleigh, in general the IRS will use tax refunds to pay off certain types of debts owed by a taxpayer, including child support.
To prevent your tax refund money from being used to pay for your husband?s debts, you have two options. You can file a separate tax return (using the married filing separately status). Or you can file jointly with your husband and include the injured spouse (Form 8379) with your tax return. The IRS has a brief overview of injured spouse at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Seven-Facts-about-Injured-Spouse-Relief.
Your tax advisor will be able to calculate what your refunds would be under either option.

January 12, 2014 at 2:43 pm
(62) James says:

My question is… i petition my wife as fiance and she got here december, we got married after a week and filed her SSN, my question now is that can i claim her on my 2013 tax return? what should i do? thank you.

January 17, 2014 at 6:30 pm
(63) May25 says:

Hi,Im stayed home mom take cared for our 3yr old daughter.Just only my husband working & his status is married in claim -0-.My question is,Can he claim me & my daughter even if 2013 tax filling we filed separate & I claimed my daughter?thank u & godblss:)

January 17, 2014 at 6:40 pm
(64) May25 says:

I mean 2012 tax filling I claimed my daughter,in right now I’m stayed home mom for a year.

January 20, 2014 at 6:27 pm
(65) john says:

im working all year long n my wife doesnt work at all… can i claim her as a dependent?

January 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm
(66) taxrus says:

May25: You would file jointly thus claiming yours and his personal exemptions, and the total standard deduction of 12,200 for 2013. Married filing separately Each person uses their own personal exemption of 3900, and their half of the 12,200 or 6100. So by filing separately and one spouse has no income you would in effect be wasting 10,000 in deductions against the other persons income. And yes you would on that married filing jointly return claim any children that you are entitled to claim.
John, same as for your situation.

February 2, 2014 at 3:06 am
(67) Diane says:

I work full time and my husband is a unemployed full time student. He owes back child support but on the injured spouse form how would I claim the student credit? Would I put it under me or him? Some of the loans I have taken out are in my name.

February 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm
(68) Kuntala says:

My husband is staying in USA from July 15,2013 and paying taxes from the same month. I came in September 2013. I am not earning anything. The total tax amount already paid in 2013 is around 2500 dollars.His annual salary is 40,000dollars.
My questions are:
1. When can we file a tax refund?
2. Will we get any tax return for 2013?
3.How much approx return can we expect,if any?

February 12, 2014 at 9:41 am
(69) Jeremytxn says:

Can my wife claim me as a dependant if I was disabled, and file head of house??

February 12, 2014 at 12:23 pm
(70) lalitha says:

sir both of my parents and myself are government employees.all the three of us together jointly have taken a housing loan and have registered the house on my mothers name.now can i claim the housing loan IT exemption if my parents are not availing it.

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