I'm the Head of Household: Can I Still Claim My Child as an Exemption?

The IRS has strict rules determining a qualifying child for head of household filing status.
i David Sacks/Photodisc/Getty Images

To file as a head of household for Internal Revenue Service tax purposes, you must have a qualifying child -- or another qualifying relative -- living with you. If you can claim your child as a dependent, you're entitled to take the IRS exemption, although there is an exception. As of 2013, that exemption is $3,900. Filing as head of household usually means a lower tax rate than filing as single or married filing separately.

Head of Household

Having a qualifying child live with you isn't the only requirement for head of household filing status. You can't be married as of Dec. 31 of the tax year and you must have paid more than half of the costs of household maintenance. If you were divorced or separated during the year, you can file as head of household if your spouse did not live with you during the final six months of the year. If your spouse died, you can file as a qualifying widow or widower.

Qualifying Child

To qualify as a dependent and for an exemption, your child must meet several IRS tests. That includes the familial relationship, so only your natural child, stepchild, foster child or custodial grandchild qualifies. At the end of the year, the child must be under age 19, or under 24 if he is a full-time student. Age restrictions are not imposed on permanently disabled children. Your child must live with you more than half of the year. He can't have provided more than half of his own support during the entire year.

Exemption Phase-out

If your adjusted gross income exceeds a certain limit, you lose part of the exemption. For 2013, those reductions kick in for someone whose adjusted gross income exceeds $275,000. IRS regulations state that you must "reduce the dollar amount of your exemptions by 2 percent for each $2,500, or part of $2,500," that your adjusted gross income exceeds the amount permitted for a person filing as head of household. If your adjusted gross income is more than $122,500 over the income limit -- or $397,500 -- you can't take an exemption.

Custodial Parents

One child can't qualify more than one person for head of household filing status, or be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer. The IRS has "tiebreaker" rules to decide which parent is eligible to claim a child as a dependent. While the custodial parent usually qualifies, under IRS rules, that means the individual with whom the child spent the most nights. If the child lived with both parents for an equal number of nights, the IRS considers the custodial parent the one with the highest adjusted gross income.

Divorce or Separation Exception

The IRS allows an exception to living arrangement requirements for children subject to divorce or separation agreements. As the noncustodial parent, you might receive an exemption for your child under your divorce or separation agreement, but that exemption doesn't necessarily qualify you to file as head of household. If you are the custodial parent, your child would qualify you for head of household status even though the exemption is awarded to the other parent. If more than one child is involved, and the parents agree on the filing status -- whether or not it is included in the formal divorce agreement -- they could both qualify as head of household by claiming an individual child.

the nest