If you’re married, but have little or no income and rely on someone other than your spouse for support, the person who’s providing for you may be able to claim you as a dependent on his tax return. You can’t be a dependent on more than one person’s tax return, and you have to meet all the IRS rules for support. Being married complicates matters because the IRS looks at your spouse’s tax situation as well as your own, as well as who is responsible for your support.
The IRS defines two classes of dependents – qualifying children and qualifying relatives. To be a qualifying child, you need to be the son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, adopted son or daughter, grandchild, niece, nephew, brother or sister of the person who is claiming you as a dependent. You may also be the parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, in-law or otherwise related by blood or marriage. A friend who is no relation can’t claim you as a dependent.
In determining the status of a dependent, the IRS also looks at the issue of support. If you supply more than half of your own support -- if you pay more than half of the costs of your own food, housing, utilities, transportation, medical care and other expenses -- you can’t be claimed as a dependent. The IRS also says that your gross income for the year can’t be more than $3,700. Gross income doesn’t include Social Security benefits and most scholarships, but does include wages, interest, dividends and unemployment benefits.
Spouse or Dependent?
Even if you don’t work and your spouse supplies all your support, you’re not your spouse’s dependent. When you file a tax return as a married couple, you’re each allowed to take a deduction. Any children or other people you support may be dependents, but as a tax filer, you aren’t your spouse’s dependent, and your spouse is not your dependent.
If someone else claims you as a dependent, you and your spouse can’t file a return as married filing jointly unless you don’t owe any taxes and file only to receive a refund. If you had taxes withheld from wages you earned at a job but you didn’t make enough during the year to owe any taxes, you can file a return to claim a refund of the withheld taxes. If your spouse also worked, and your combined income requires you to pay taxes, or if you file only to claim a tax credit, such as the Earned Income Credit, you can’t be a dependent on someone else’s taxes. Even if you elected to file separately instead of jointly, if one of you makes enough income to require you to pay taxes, you can’t be claimed as a dependent by someone else.
Cynthia Myers is the author of numerous novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University.