The Internal Revenue Service typically does not ask that documentation on dependents be presented with your tax filing, but it may request the information after the return is processed. You may need to support taking the Earned Income Tax Credit, for instance, or in the case of divorced parents, prove that you are the parent who is legitimately entitled to take the child as a deduction. If you are claiming head of household with a child who is not yours by birth or adoption, you may also be asked to support your claim. In the latter case, you will need to prove the child is related to you and lived with you for a certain portion of the year.
The most direct way to prove the child is yours to claim is with her birth certificate. The birth certificate enables you to both prove parentage and apply for other legal proofs, such as a Social Security number, and register her for school. The certificate you received from the hospital when your child was born is not the proof you need. You must use a certified copy of the birth certificate issued by the state or county where he was born. You can obtain one from his county of birth.
School records demonstrate that you are the responsible caregiver for the child, at least in the eyes of the school, and help to prove that he lived with you. School records also help to prove age in case you don't have a birth certificate on hand. If your child is over 18 and attending high school or college, school records support your claiming her as a dependent, so long as she doesn't claim herself on a tax return of her own.
A number of courtroom documents can prove that a child is yours to claim on your tax return. Court orders regarding custody demonstrate which parent has the child for the bulk of the year; this is the IRS test for who may take her deduction and other dependent credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and childcare. Adoptions and pending adoptions are documented with legal filings and court orders. In the case of an adult child who is permanently and totally disabled, court documents detail your rights and responsibilities as a legal guardian.
The IRS will accept letters on official letterhead from schools, medical providers, social service agencies, or places of worship that show the name of the child's parent or guardian, the child's address and the dates the child lived with you. Others from whom affidavits can be accepted for proof on the earned income credit form are landlords, utility companies, law enforcement officers and childcare providers.
Billie Jo Jannen is a politics and lifestyle columnist in rural San Diego County and a senior copy editor for Demand Media. Her writing and editing career spans 23 years, and she specializes in border and environmental affairs. Jannen's eclectic education includes engineering and horticulture, and she represents the Rural Economic Action League in regional economic development planning.