Skip to content

Frequently Asked Questions: Personal and Dependent Exemptions

Q: My former spouse and I share physical custody of our 8-year-old child. Our child also spends a couple of weeks each year with my parents and his parents, such that we both have custody for the same number of days. Which of us is the custodial parent and entitled to all the tax benefits of having a qualifying child?

A: The custodial parent is the parent with whom the child resides for the greater number of nights in the calendar year, as long as the child is not emancipated (reached the age of majority) under state law. When a child is in custody of one or both parents for more than half the year and the child spends an equal number of nights with both parents, the parent with the higher adjusted gross income is considered to be the custodial parent.

Q: How do we claim an exemption for our child born on Dec. 27 when we don't have her Social Security number?

A: You will not get the benefit of claiming her as a dependent until you have the Social Security number to put on the tax return.

Apply for a Social Security number at the same time you apply for a birth certificate.  If you do this, you will likely receive the Social Security number before the due date of the return, which is normally April 15th.

Q: I am a single parent with a 10-year-old qualifying child. We both live with my mother in her home. The child's other parent did not live with us. My mother and I share the expenses. My AGI is $25,000. My mother's AGI is $32,000. Who can claim my child as a dependent?

A: If the child is residing in the same household as the mother and grandmother, the child is the qualifying child of two taxpayers. Because the grandmother's AGI is higher than the parent, they can agree among themselves who will take the exemption. If they can't agree, the tie-breaking rule states that the exemption goes to the parent. If the parent had a higher AGI than the grandmother, only the parent could claim the child.

Please note that once the determination is made as to who gets the exemption, the taxpayer with the exemption is the only one who can treat that child as a qualifying child for all the other tax benefits, such as the child tax credit, earned income credit, child and dependent care credit, and filing as head of household.

Q: I am 22. I attend college full time and work and live with my father. Depending on how I view my situation, I believe I can file and claim myself, or I may let my father claim me. Is that a correct interpretation?

A: You are either your father's dependent or you are self-supporting and not his dependent. This is determined by the facts. How you view the situation is not relevant.

Because you are under age 24, you are your father's qualifying child if you live with him for more than six months and you are not self-supporting. You would be self-supporting if you provided more than half of your own total support. Total support includes the fair market value of any lodging provided to you, utilities, repairs to the household, food, clothing, education, medical, dental, travel and recreation expenses. Only the person who qualifies to claim you can do so. If you are self-supporting, then your father may not claim you.

Q: My ex-spouse is claiming the dependency exemption for our son, even though our divorce agreement names me as the custodial parent. He claims that the tax law was changed, and that because he had physical custody of our son for the greater part of the year, he is the custodial parent and gets the exemption. Could this be true?

A: For any tax year that began after July 2, 2008, tax law was changed relating to the definition of custodial parent for those parents who are divorced, separated or never married. Your former spouse is correct that the parent who has physical custody of the child for the greater part of the year is the custodial parent, as long as the child is not emancipated under state law. If you separated during the year, the custodial parent is the one who had physical custody for the greater part of the rest of the year. Under these circumstances, the child in question would be a qualifying child for the custodial parent if the child lived with that parent for more than half the year and the child did not provide more than half of his or her own support.

For tax years starting after July 2, 2008, the noncustodial parent can only claim the exemption for a child if the custodial parent formally releases that exemption via IRS Form 8332 or with a signed, written statement that conforms to the language in Form 8332.

Through the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, AARP Foundation is providing online tax counseling as a public service, and cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided. Your taxes are your responsibility. You are solely responsible for what you do in your own tax situation.

The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program is a volunteer-run, free tax-preparation and assistance service offered to low- and middle-income taxpayers with special attention to those age 60 and older. Our volunteers are trained and IRS-certified to understand individual federal-tax issues. Our volunteers provide tax assistance as a public service and cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.