Tax guide

Claiming Child When Divorced

When you’re divorced or legally separated, it’s not always easy or automatic to determine who can claim a child as a dependent. Here’s some guidance on the subject.

Note: The personal exemption was eliminated starting with 2018 returns, in favor of a higher standard deduction. So claiming a dependent child will no longer give you an exemption to reduce your taxable income. Still, claiming a dependent child can provide or increase other tax breaks, including child or dependent tax credits, the Earned Income Credit, and a more favorable filing status.

Who Can Claim: Custodial versus Noncustodial Parents

It’s common for the custodial parent – the one the child spends more than half the year with – to claim the dependent. But the noncustodial parent may claim the dependent if he or she provided half of the child’s support.

The noncustodial parent may also claim the dependent if a divorce or separation decree or a written declaration from the custodial parent says the noncustodial parent can claim the dependent.

If there’s any doubt about who will claim the child, it’s best to communicate with the other parent before you both file. When both parents claim the child, only the first filed return will be accepted. Other than that, adding the child to your return is just a matter of filling out the Dependent screen.

Special Rules

If no divorce or separation decree states that the noncustodial parent may claim the dependent or there is no written declaration from the custodial parent, tiebreaker rules are in effect.

  • The parent who the child spends the most time with may claim the dependent.
  • If the child spends equal time between both parents, then the parent with the highest adjusted gross income may claim the dependent.
  • If only one of the taxpayers is the child’s parent, that parent may claim the dependent.

Releasing and Revoking Claims for a Dependent

If you have no divorce or separation decree, the custodial parent – the parent who has the child more nights out of the year – can sign Form 8332 or a written declaration to release their dependency claim. Either document may be only for one year or for several years.

BUT: The custodial parent has the right to revoke Form 8332 or their written declaration at any time and reclaim the child as a dependent.

Bottom line: Add Form 8332 to your return when you're claiming a child that the other parent has released, or to revoke your prior release of the child as a dependent.

Also see:
Who Can You Claim as a Dependent?
Child Tax Credits
Child and Dependent Care

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