Filing as head of household is a lot better than filing as plain old single. Single filers pay a higher tax rate and a have lower standard deduction. If you're still married, the rates for a head of household are lower than if you're "married filing separately." You may be able to meet the IRS standards for head of household even if someone else claims your child as a dependent.
Head of Household
To qualify as head of household, you must be unmarried or "considered unmarried" on the last day of the year. You're considered unmarried if you file a separate return and your spouse lived away from home for the second half of the year, excepting special cases such as illness or military service. If you also pay more than half the cost of keeping up your home and you have a "qualifying child" living with you, you qualify.
Your qualifying child can be your child -- including stepchildren, foster children and adoptive children -- or grandchild, or a younger sibling, or your sibling's child. The child must be under 19 -- unless she's disabled or a full-time student -- and younger than you. You must provide half her support for the year and she has to live with you at least six months of the year for which you are filing. The IRS allows an exception to the latter requirement if, for example, your child is in the hospital or away at boarding school for months..
If your ex claims your child as her dependent, you can't claim her: A child be claimed as a dependent by only one person. If you meet the other standards for head of household, however, your child can still qualify you for that status, even without an exemption, as long she's single: If she's married, you can't claim her. You also can't claim her if your ex is using her to qualify for head of household status.
If you claim one of your parents as a dependent, that also qualifies you to file as a head of household. You can also file if you claim a sibling, grandparent, adult child, aunt or uncle as a dependent, provided the relative lives with you for more than six months out of the year. To claim a "qualifying relative" as a dependent, you must provide more than half the relative's support. If you claim a dependent who doesn't fall into one of the categories, she doesn't qualify you as head of household.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.