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The General Rules for Claiming a Child on Your Tax Return

How to make sure that you are absolutely eligible to claim the child you include on your tax return.

Claiming a child on your tax return can yield quite a few benefits for the taxpayer, and some of these can be significant. Taxpayers will be able to claim the personal exemption for the child, the child tax credit, and the child and dependent care tax credit. For unmarried taxpayers, claiming a child will qualify them for the Head of Household filing status. Taxpayers may also be eligible to claim the earned income credit if their income falls below a certain amount.

Over the years, people have inadvertently included children on their tax returns that they were not eligible to claim, resulting in more than one person claiming the same child. It is therefore absolutely important to make certain that you are eligible to claim every child you include on your tax return. If you are not eligible to claim the child, the IRS certainly will be doing adjustments to your tax return, and you will be required to repay whatever benefits you received.

In order to claim a child on your tax return, the child must qualify to be what tax law calls a “Qualifying Child.” This is very important. For the child to be your Qualifying Child, four main tests must be satisfied. These tests are as follows:

  1. The relationship test
  2. The age test
  3. The residency test
  4. The support test

The Relationship Test

The relationship test requires that the child be related to you in any one of the following ways:

  • The child must your son, daughter, stepchild, adopted child, or a descendant of any of them.
  • The child can be your brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of them.
  • An eligible foster child also meets this test. This must be a child who has been placed with you by an authorized placement agency.

The Age Test

To following must apply to meet the age test:

  • Generally, the child must be under the age of 19 at the end of the tax year.
  • The child can be older than 19, but in this case, he or she must be a full-time student, and must be under the age of 24 at the end of the tax year.
  • If the child is permanently and totally disabled at any time during the year, the age test does not apply. In this case, you will be able to claim the child as a dependent regardless of child’s age.

The Residency Test

To satisfy the residency test, the general rule is that the child must have lived with you for more than half of the year. There are, however, some exceptions to the general rule, and these apply in the following situations:

  • In the case of temporary absences. This occurs where you, or your child, have to be temporarily absent from the home due to special circumstances such as illness, education, business, vacation, or military service.
  • For children who were born or died during the year. If your child was born during the year, or died during the year, he or she is treated as having lived with you for the entire year, as long as your home was the child’s home for the entire time he or she was alive during the year.
  • For kidnapped children. If your child was kidnapped, you can treat the child as meeting the residency test, and claim the child even though the child was not physically living with you. However, the child must have been presumed by law enforcement authorities to have been kidnapped by someone other than a member of your family or the child’s family.
  • For children of divorced or separated parents. If you are separated from your spouse, and the child lives with your spouse, that makes you the non-custodial parent. Tax law, however, under certain circumstances, can allow the child to be treated as your qualifying child, even though the child did not physically live with you. The other party, however, must sign the appropriate form (Form 8332) declaring that he or she will not be claiming the child.

The Support Test

To satisfy this test, the child cannot have provided for more than half of his or her support for the year. For example, you provided $4,000 toward your 16-year-old son’s support for the year, but he has a part-time job and provided $6,000 toward his own support. In this case, since he provided more than half of his own support for the year, this disqualifies him from being your qualifying child, and you will not be able to claim him.

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