Claiming Your Child on Taxes? Find Out If They Can File Too

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Claiming a child on taxes is a common practice that can provide significant financial benefits. However, the process can be complex and requires understanding specific rules and regulations. This article will guide you through the essential aspects of claiming your child on taxes, including real-life examples, case studies, data and statistics, practical tips and advice, common mistakes to avoid, and best practices to follow.

Understanding the Rules: Who Can Claim a Child?

Custodial Parent Considerations

According to H&R Block, the custodial parent usually claims the child as a dependent. However, the IRS’s definition of the custodial parent may differ from the family court’s definition. The custodial parent for tax purposes is typically the one with whom the child lives most nights. If there’s a tie, the parent with the higher adjusted gross income (AGI) claims the child.

Tie-Breaker Rules

If two people try to claim the same child, the IRS will apply tie-breaker rules. The child is considered a qualifying child for:

  • Whoever the child lived with the longest during the tax year.
  • The parent with the highest AGI if the child lived equally with both parents.
  • The person with the highest AGI if no parent can claim the child.

Benefits for the Custodial Parent

The custodial parent can claim various benefits, including:

  • Head of household filing status.
  • Child and dependent care expense exclusion or credit.
  • Earned Income Credit (EIC).
  • Child tax credit, additional child tax credit, credit for other dependents, and education expenses.

Releasing the Right to Claim

Custodial parents can give noncustodial parents the right to claim tax benefits by sending Form 8332 to the IRS.

W-4 Guide for Students: Understanding Allowances

The W-4 Guide provides insights into how students can choose their allowances. They can either have taxes taken out based on the number of allowances claimed or choose to have no taxes taken out and claim exemption.

Allowances and Tax Withholding

  • Claiming “0” means the most tax will be taken out.
  • Claiming “1” for oneself means less tax will be taken out.
  • The higher the number of allowances, the less tax is taken out.

Exemption Considerations

  • Exemption means no taxes will be taken out each pay period.
  • Exemption does not automatically apply to Federal Work Study student employees.
  • Exemption expires at the end of the year, requiring a new W-4.

Determining the Need to File: IRS Guidelines

The IRS provides guidelines on who must file a tax return. In most cases, income, filing status, and age determine this need. For example, a single taxpayer under 65 must file if their income was at least $12,000.

Filing for a Refund

Even if not required to file, taxpayers should consider filing if they can get money back. Questions to consider include:

  • Was federal income tax withheld from pay?
  • Were estimated tax payments made?
  • Was there an overpayment on the previous tax return?
  • Is the taxpayer eligible for refundable credits like the earned income tax credit?

Free Filing Options

The IRS offers Free File options for those with incomes of $66,000 or less, allowing taxpayers to file for free.


Claiming your child on taxes is a valuable opportunity but requires careful consideration of various rules and guidelines. Understanding the rights and responsibilities of custodial and noncustodial parents, considering allowances and exemptions, and knowing when and how to file are essential steps in this process. By following the insights and best practices outlined in this article, you can navigate the complexities of claiming your child on taxes with confidence.