Who Can I Claim as a Dependent and Can Both Parents Claim the Same Child as a Dependent?

I receive a number of questions every tax season regarding eligibility rules for claiming someone as a dependent on their tax return. Obviously this is an important topic because being able to claim someone as a dependent provides a number of tax benefits/exemptions and ultimately a lower tax bill.

Further, tax payers may also get access to tax credits like the child tax and earned income credits through their dependents. Finally, claiming someone as a dependent can allow unmarried taxpayers to be eligible to file as head of household which means access to much more favorable tax brackets and a higher standard deduction.

Just remember, a child may only be claimed as a dependent on one return in a tax year. So if the parents are filing separately or separated during the year, only one parent (the custodial one) can claim them as a dependent.

I have provided a summary below from my friends at TurboTax

A dependent is someone who is a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. You are allowed one exemption for each dependent. For the latest tax year you can deduct a given amount – shown in the table below by tax year – for each exemption you are eligible for. This includes yourself, your spouse if married filing jointly, and for eligible dependents.

Note that for higher incomes (see limits) the dependent exemption is phased out. Further if you are claiming qualifying relatives and other unrelated Persons (e.g boyfriend or girlfriend), you cannot claim them as a dependent if they have gross yearly income over the IRS prescribed amount as shown in the table below (adjusted annually). This is generally the same as the dependent exemption amount.

Tax YearDependent Exemption AmountGross Income Limit (Qualifying Relative)

There are various other tests (dependent taxpayer, joint return and citizen/resident) and rules to claim someone as a dependent which are summarized in the table below.

If two or more people claim the same dependent, the IRS will audit both the returns to determine who has the strongest case for the claim. The losing party will be required to pay additional taxes and possibly a penalty. 

Note that, while you can claim an exemption for your spouse if filing a joint return, your spouse is never considered your dependent.

Head of Household –  Unmarried individuals who qualify for head of household filing status can claim an exemption for their qualified dependents if they meet the following criteria:

IRS Dependent Qualification

To file as head of household you must meet all the following requirements:

1) You are unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year.

2) You paid more than half the cost of keeping  up a home for the year. 3) A qualifying person lived with you in the home for more than half the year.

Parent-Child Exemptions – If a parent or another qualifying person claims you as a dependent, you may not claim your personal exemption on your own tax return. This is important for first time tax filers who were originally dependents on their parent’s tax return.

Source: IRS publication 501 provides more details and examples on the above and is worth reviewing if you want further clarification.

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10 thoughts on “Who Can I Claim as a Dependent and Can Both Parents Claim the Same Child as a Dependent?”

  1. If our parents are elderly and live with us and we pay for well over half of their support but our Mother earn’s just over $5000 a year from a pension, does that disqualify her from being claimed as our dependent?

  2. My Daughter is 21 and lives at home, she does work but i still pay all of the household expenses can I still claim her on my taxes.

  3. hello im 21 years old haven’t been working but i do clean houses at least three times a month to get money, and i also sell things on my own to buy me what i need, i live with my aunt. but she doesnt cover any of my expenses whatsoever , i have two kids, can she still file us ?

  4. Mydaughter is a full time student with a scholarship that pays for all her tuition. The criterion for Head of household and her as a dependent states’ the child cannot contribute more than 1/2 of her support. Does the scholarship count at 1/2 support?? I claim head of household, what % of my home expenses can be contributed for providing her support. She is temporarily not living here as she lives on campus. But i pay for clothing, medical insurance, car insurance and room and board

  5. If a son uses his disable mother, father and brother as a qualifying relative will they be eligiable for Earned Income Credit even if they receive social security all year that is not taxed. I have they will only receive 250 dollars a piece.

  6. Let’s just say I’m 25 years old, my parents are divorced, and I am finally able to file taxes. (W2 I think) Is it possible for one of my parents to claim me AND for me to file my own taxes? Also, would it be wiser to not file my taxes and just let my parent pay me back what I would’ve gotten back from my taxes this year?

    • A dependent is someone who is a qualifying child OR a qualifying relative. You are allowed one exemption for each dependent.

      So even though you may not meet the age test for qualifying as a child you could still be a qualifying relative. The answer is one, and only one, of your parents can claim you. You need to run the numbers to see which is better for your financially, but normally doing your own return is better.

  7. You can claim her as a dependent, but if she also files a return, you cannot claim an exemption for her if she is also claiming a personal exemption on her tax return. I.e no double dipping.

    If her gross income was $3,800 or more, she cannot be claimed as a dependent.

    The above referenced publication (501) or IRS publication 929 – Tax Rules for Children and Dependents will provide you with more detailed information.

  8. Our 18 year old daughter lives with us, attends school full time and works part time. However she does not pay for any of her living expenses. She works part time to receive gas money or shopping money. But we cover all her expenses. Are we still able to claim her as a dependent or do we lose that as she will need to file her own taxes now?


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