Can I File Head of Household if My Ex-Spouse Claims Children as Dependents?

One of the most perplexing income tax rules is the head of household filing status. To claim head of household status, you must satisfy three conditions. None of the requirements demand that you have dependent children listed on your tax return as long as they live with you for most of the year.

Basic Criteria

To qualify for head of household status, you must be unmarried and pay half the costs of keeping up your home for the entire year. Not everyone who’s single, however, is eligible to call himself a head of household. You must have someone living with you whom the tax standards consider a “qualifying person.” Typically, this individual is your child, but it can be another relative or relatives. A qualifying person must live with you for more than half the year.

Marital Status

Your marital status for eligibility as head of household is determined by whether you’re married or unmarried on the last day of the year. Individuals who were separated but not divorced on Dec. 31 can possibly assert that they should be considered unmarried. This is an option if you did not live with your spouse at any time during the last six months of the year. You must also provide a main home for your child and be able to claim the child as a dependent.

Dependent of Other Parent

You’re not required to claim your child for a dependency exemption to use this same child as the qualifying person for your head of household status. Instead, you must simply be entitled to claim your child as your dependent. This is accomplished when the child lives with you for more than half the year and is under age 19 -- or age 24 if he’s a full-time student. If your child is married, you must claim him as a dependent and he cannot file a joint tax return with his spouse.

Another Qualifying Person

If your children lived with your former spouse for most of the year and she claims them as her dependents, you might still be eligible for head of household status. But you need to have a different qualifying person other than your child. Merely providing for the support of your child who lives with your former spouse isn’t sufficient for considering your child as your qualifying person for head of household purposes. Also satisfying the qualifying person conditions are relatives you claim as dependents. You can count parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews -- but not cousins. Any of them, except a parent, must have lived with you more than half the year.

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