Can a Married Couple Both Claim Head of Household If They File Taxes Separately?

Few terms used by the Internal Revenue Service are more confusing than “head of household.” This is a special tax filing status that gives unmarried individuals a lower tax rate than filing as single. Simply heading a household isn’t sufficient to satisfy the conditions for head of household tax status, however.


One factor that qualifies you as head of household for tax purposes is being considered unmarried in the eyes of the IRS. This does not mean you aren't legally married, however, as will be explained later. Another requirement is that you must pay more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the year. Most importantly, you only secure a head of household tax status by having what the IRS calls a “qualifying person” living with you for more than half the year. This is typically your child who lives with you, regardless of whether you claim the child as a dependent on your tax return. But others qualify as well.

Considered Unmarried

Complicating the head of household filing status is the ability of married persons to attain unmarried standing. This is accomplished only by living separately from your spouse for at least the last six months of the year. If you’re married and lived apart from your spouse after June 30, you’re considered unmarried when filing a separate tax return; making your home the main home for your child; claiming the child as a dependent; and paying more than half of the costs for keeping up your home. A married couple that’s considered "unmarried" cannot use the same child as a qualifying person for head of household purposes.

Foreign Spouses

You’re considered unmarried according to the head of household rules if your spouse was a nonresident alien at any time during the year. But you’re classified as married if you choose to treat your spouse as a resident alien for the purpose of filing a joint tax return. A nonresident alien is a foreign citizen who is not eligible to work in the United States and wasn’t present in the U.S. for enough days to qualify as a resident. Since your spouse cannot be a qualifying person for head of household purposes, you must have another individual living with you who satisfies the conditions of a qualifying person.

Other Qualifying Persons

In addition to your child living with you, other individuals are possible qualifying persons for head of household status. These include, but are not restricted to, siblings, parents, grandparents, nieces and nephews. Unlike a qualifying person who’s your child, you must claim these other relatives as dependents. Any of these people – except a dependent parent – must live with you for more than half the year. Temporary absences for education or travel don’t count.

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