Losing a dependent isn't cheap. As of 2012, every dependent you claim on your income tax return knocks $3,800 off your taxable income. Two income tax returns may not list the same person as a dependent. Such duplication can happen, however, through error or because you and someone else -- your former spouse, for example -- both think you have the right to the exemption.
When you discover that someone has already claimed one of your dependents, don't send in an e-return. If you do, The IRS system will spit it out, tell you it isn't acceptable and direct you to resubmit; this may be how you learn someone else swiped your exemption. RapidTax.com recommends you send the IRS a paper return with added documentation of proof that the person in question is indeed your dependent.
It doesn't take much for someone else to claim your dependents. Just writing down one wrong digit on a Social Security number could leave a stranger with your qualifying child instead of her own. In other cases, two tax filers might both meet all the tests to claim a qualifying child. If, say, your child lives half the year with you and half with your former spouse or an older sibling, he may be a qualifying child for both households.
The simplest way to prove your right to claim a child as a dependent is by establishing parenthood: If you're the child's parent and the other claimant is not, that might be all you have to tell the IRS. The parent awarded legal custody of a child typically has the right to claim the child as a dependent. If both you and the other filer are the child's parents and you share custody of your child but the child spent more of the year with you, that's also a tiebreaker. Otherwise, the IRS gives the win to whichever of you has the higher adjusted gross income. The AGI is also the tiebreaker if neither you nor the other claimant is the child's parent.
If your dependent is a "qualifying relative" such as a parent, an in-law or an adult child, normally you have to pay at least half his support for the year. If several people beside you contribute to his support -- you and your siblings, for instance -- any one of you who pays 10 percent support or more can claim the exemption. If you claim the exemption, get statements from your siblings acknowledging your right to do so. If one of them goes ahead and claims him anyway, send in the statements with your Form 1040.
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