To Claim or Not to Claim: How to Know When to Claim the Children on Your Tax Return
Smell that? That’s the smell of freshly cut government checks. See that? That’s the sight of people running to the mall (do people still go to the mall?) to immediately blow the money they overpaid Uncle Sam. It’s no wonder the issue of “who can claim the kids” is such a point of contention among many divorced or separated couples – claiming a child can mean big bucks in the form of a tax return. Unfortunately, like many things in our legal and government system, the tax code is not cut and dry. Absent an agreement between you and your ex-paramour that states who can claim the kids during which years, you’re pretty much fending for yourself.
When married couples file joint tax returns, they collectively claim their children as exemptions. Divorced, separated, or never-married couples, however, are not able to file jointly, so it makes sense that there may be some confusion re: who can claim the children.
In some couples, only one of the parents is a legally recognized parent, in which case that parent claims the exemption. For example, a proverbial deadbeat parent is not a legally recognized parent, so he or she cannot decide to claim a child he or she did not support. In other relationships, where both partners are legal parents, they may agree on which parent will claim the exemptions. This agreement could be based on who will stand to gain the greatest financial benefit, who has the greater need for the exemption, or simply an alternating year-to-year schedule. Ultimately, the parents make the decision they feel is best for them.
But, let’s say you and your ex-paramour aren’t great at communicating, and you don’t have an agreement in place that states who can claim the kids… what do you do?! Never fear! This super informative and ultra-timely blog post is here! If you are unsure about whether you should try to claim the kids, ask yourself these 7 questions*:
- Is this child my natural child or my child by adoption?
- Has this child lived with me the majority of the tax year?
- Has this child been a United States Citizen for at least some of the tax year?
- Is this child unmarried?
- Did this child earn more than $2,800 this tax year?
- Is this child under the age of 19 or a student under the age of 24?
- Did I provide more than half of this child’s support?
If you answered ‘yes’ to all the above questions, then you are eligible to claim the children! Awesome! However, if you answered ‘no’ to any of the questions, pump the breaks and try again next year.
We understand that it can be overwhelming for separating, divorced, or never-married couples to make big decisions together – and taxes is just one of the many. If you want to lighten your load, feel free to contact our firm. We’ll not only give you legal advice, but we’ll also come shopping with you after you get your refund. New shoes for everyone!
…okay… we won’t really come shopping with you.
*These questions were derived from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidelines.