Who Claims the Child on Taxes When There's Split Custody?

When filing for taxes there are many things to consider including the number of dependents in the household. Who claims the child when there's split custody?

Alyssa Exposito - Author

Feb. 28 2022, Published 2:57 p.m. ET

A man with three children
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Having children could make an individual eligible for tax deductions when filing for taxes. Claiming children as dependents can get tricky if the parents are separated. Who claims taxes on dependents when there's 50/50 custody?

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Usually, the IRS allows the parent with whom the child has lived most of the tax year to claim the child. However, parents who evenly split custody have other factors to consider. Understanding whether an individual can claim the child as a dependent can save a lot of time, money, and a potential audit.

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What are the criteria to claim a child?

Filing taxes can be a long and daunting process, especially when parameters don't outline certain situations like joint custody of children. The tax laws mention custodial and non-custodial parents but aren't the clearest when parents share custody.

However, there are criteria to meet when claiming a child as a dependent. According to the IRS, the child must hold the following relationship to the person filing:

  • Child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child
  • Sister, brother, or half-siblings
  • Niece/nephew or grandchild
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Not only do the children need to meet the relationship criteria, but they also must fall under the following descriptions:

  • Younger than the person filing and younger than 19 by the end of the tax year
  • Younger than the person filing, a full-time student for at least five months, and be under 24 by the end of the tax year
  • If they're disabled, age isn't a factor
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There are parameters and stipulations that must both hold true for the child being claimed:

  • Lived in the same household as the person filing for at least half the tax year
  • Didn't pay for more than half of the living expenses within the tax year
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Who claims the child when custody is 50/50?

Unfortunately, both parents who are separated can't claim their child. Only one parent can claim the child and in these cases, some scenarios determine which parent is eligible to claim their child as a dependent.

According to the IRS, assuming both parents spent an equal amount of days with the child, the parent with the higher adjusted income will be able to claim the child when filing for taxes.

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It's important that both parents don't claim the same child. If they did, both claims would be rejected and the government would give them time to amend the form. However, if neither parent removes the child as a dependent, they risk being audited and the IRS will determine which parent is eligible to claim the child.

child custody taxes
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Can parents decide which of them will claim a child as a dependent?

Parents can also come to a mutual agreement regarding which of them will claim the child when filing for taxes. Typically, when parents share 50/50 custody, they alternate between odd and even years on which parent claims the child. In this way, both parents (if eligible) have the opportunity to claim their child.

Families where there's more than one child, often get split between both parents to claim. If there's an odd number of children, typically parents decide to alternate which parent claims the greater number of children. For example, if there are three children, parent A will claim two children while parent B will claim one in 2022. In 2023, parent A will claim one, whereby parent B will then claim two.


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