Tax Break Battle: Can Both Parents Claim Child? Unpacking the IRS Rules

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As tax season approaches, one of the most common issues that can arise for divorced or separated parents is who has the right to claim their child as a dependent on their tax return. The answer can be tricky, as it depends on several factors and can involve legal agreements and prior court orders.

What are the IRS rules?

The IRS allows only one parent to claim a child as a dependent on their tax return each year. However, in some cases, both parents may be eligible to claim different tax credits related to their child.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when it comes to claiming dependents:

  • A parent must have physical custody of their child for at least half of the year (over 183 days) in order to claim them as a dependent.
  • If custody is shared equally between both parents, then they must decide which parent will claim the child as a dependent each year.
  • Only one parent can take advantage of certain credits like the Child Tax Credit or Earned Income Tax Credit.

What happens if both parents try to claim?

If both parents attempt to claim the same child on their respective tax returns without an agreement, it could cause problems with the IRS. The first step would be for them to verify which parent qualifies for claiming purposes by comparing various factors such as:

  • Who provides more than half financial support
  • Who has primary responsibility regarding medical care and education

However, there is no guarantee that this process will eliminate any disputes or concerns about who gets claimed every year.

How do you prevent disagreements over claims?

To avoid conflict and ensure clarity regarding who claims what deductions or credits relating children; here are some important steps:

  1. Make sure your divorce decree specifies how youll deal with dependency exemptions after divorce/separation: Which Parent Will Claim Child Every Year?
  2. Agree before tax season with your former spouse which parent will claim child dependents.
  3. Be sure to reflect any agreed-upon division of tax breaks in a signed document part of your divorce or separation agreement.

By doing this, you can avoid confusion and potential disputes about who is entitled to the tax benefits associated with claiming dependent children.


Navigating the IRS rules on dependent claims when it comes to children can be challenging for divorced or separated parents; It’s essential that both parties are aware of all IRS regulations and agreement provisions when dealing with such things come tax time. Ultimately, clear communication and documentation are key to preventing misunderstandings and resolving conflicts.


Q: Can both parents claim a child for tax purposes if they live separately?
A: No. According to IRS rules, only one parent can claim the child as a dependent on their tax return if they live apart for more than half of the year. However, there are some exceptions where both parents may be eligible to claim certain tax benefits.

Q: How do we decide which parent claims the child?
A: Generally, the custodial parent is eligible to claim the child as a dependent unless they agree in writing that the noncustodial parent may do so instead. If this agreement is in place and meets other requirements set forth by the IRS, then noncustodial parents can potentially claim certain credits such as Child Tax Credit or Earned Income Tax Credit.

Q: What happens if both parents wrongly claim a child on their taxes?
A: If both parents attempt to claim a child on their return without meeting eligibility requirements or agreeing to alternate years of claiming them through written statements, it could result in an audit from IRS and additional penalties such as back taxes owed with interest or fines depending on each case’s circumstances. It’s important that separated/unmarried/divorced couples establish clear communication between them regarding who will make these claims before filing taxes each year.