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Qualifying Children as Dependents

Four tests define a qualifying child

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These criteria define what qualifies a child as a dependent.

Qualifying Children

To be claimed as a qualifying child, the person must meet four criteria:

Relationship — the person must be your child, step child, adopted child, foster child, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these (for example, a grandchild or nephew).

Residence — for more than half the year, the person must in your home.

Age — the person must be either

  • under age 19 at the end of the year, or
  • under age 24 and a full-time student for at least five months out of the year, or
  • any age and totally and permanently disabled.

Support — the person did not provide more than half of his or her own support during the year.

Some Tips about Claiming Qualifying Children

The qualifying child must live with you for more than half the year. More than half a year means, at minimum, six months and one day. If you share custody, you may want to keep a log of where the child spends the night in your calendar.

The qualifying child must not provide more than half of his or her own support. This is different from the tax laws that applied prior to 2005. Under the previous tax laws, the taxpayer had to provide over half the support for the child. This change makes it easier for families relying on public assistance, charity, and gifts from family members to claim a dependent.

If a person does not meet the criteria to be a qualifying child, he or she might meet the criteria to be a qualifying relative. Because the qualifying child criteria trump the qualifying relative criteria, the taxpayer will want to make sure no other taxpayer could claim the dependent under the qualifying child criteria. This should be checked before claiming a qualifying relative on a tax return to minimize hassles when the IRS processes the tax return.

Tie-Breaker Tests for Claiming a Qualifying Child

If two or more taxpayers claim a dependent as a qualifying child in the same year, the IRS will use the following tie-breaker tests to determine which taxpayer is eligible to claim the dependent. The tie-breaker tests are listed in order of priority.

The taxpayer most eligible to claim the child as a dependent under the qualifying child criteria is:

  • the parent,
  • the parent with whom the child lived for the longest time during the year,
  • if the time was equal, the parent with the highest adjusted gross income,
  • if no taxpayer is the child's parent, the taxpayer with the highest adjusted gross income.

Some Additional Tips for Tie-Breaker Situations

A child can be the dependent of at most one taxpayer. If you qualify to claim the child, then be ready to submit documentation to the IRS to support your claim.

Chances are the child will spend at least one day more with one parent than the other parent, since there are usually 365 days in a year. Consider keeping a log of where the child spends the night.

If the child spends exactly equal time with both parents, the parent with the higher income will be able to claim the dependent. Both parties can prevent an IRS audit by reviewing these tie-breaker rules in advance, and agreeing on who gets to claim the dependent.

The non-qualifying parent can claim the dependent only if the qualifying parent releases his or her claim to the dependency exemption. You accomplish this by using IRS Form 8332, Release of Claim to Exemption for Child of Divorced or Separated Parents (PDF document). You can indicate on this form for which year or years you agree to release the exemption. You can also revoke the release if you later change your mind.

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