Question: Who can I claim as a dependent on my tax return? What are the IRS Dependent Rules?

Answer: For tax purposes, the IRS says that a dependent is someone who is supported by another. Examples include:


  • Qualifying child - A child under the age of 18, or under the age of 24 and a full-time student (full-time status is determined by the individual institution)
  • Qualifying child - A child who earns less than $3,800/year, and you provided more than half of their support
  • Spouse - physically or mentally incapable of self-care, and lives with you more than half the year
  • Parent - A parent who earns less than $3,800/year, and you provided more than half of their support


As you can see, the IRS instructions for dependents is pretty vague. Most people want this question answered in the context of their tax situations. Below are some helpful tips:

Question: I pay child support. Am I allowed to claim my child(ren) on my income tax return?

In most cases, the amount of money that you provide for support doesn't matter as far as taxes are concerned. To qualify as your dependent on your return, the child must not provide more than half of his or her own support for the year. The child must also live with you more than half the year. To separated or divorced parents,legally, the parent who can claim the child as a dependent is the one that the child lived with the longest during the year. This is typically the custodial parent.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. The child can be the qualifying child of the noncustodial parent if all of these are true:

  • One or both parents provided more than half of the child's total support for the year.
  • One or both parents have custody of the child for more than half of the year.
  • The parents are divorced, legally separated, or lived apart at all times during the last six months of the year.

With that said, the noncustodial parent can only take the dependency exemption if one of these is true:

  • The custodial parent gives up the exemption by signing a Form 8332: Release / Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent. The noncustodial parent must attach the Form 8332 to the return.
  • The noncustodial parent attaches an agreement that took effect from 1985-2008. The agreement must say:
    • That the noncustodial parent can claim the child without regard to any condition, like payment of support.
    • Which years the noncustodial parent can claim the child.
    • That the custodial parent won't claim the child for those years. 

Question: Can I claim my boyfriend or girlfriend as a dependent?

The short answer is that you can if your living situation does not violate local law and if your boyfriend or girlfriend's income was less than $3,950. In addition, you must have paid more than half of your partner's living expenses during the calendar year for which you want to claim that person as a dependent. 

Question: Why would I want to add a dependent to my tax return?

There are many tax benefits to providing more than half of the financial support for a qualifying person throughout the year. Depending on the situation, taxpayers can deduct personal exemptions, earn child tax credits, get dependent care tax credits, or qualify for earned income tax credit.

Question: Can my parents be dependents if they do not live with me?

If you provided more than half of the support for your parents and their income is less than $3,950, you may claim your parents as dependents. This applies only if they are U.S. citizens, U.S. Resident aliens, or U.S. nationals. Other restrictions apply to this rule. 

Question: Can I claim my wife as a dependent if we were married and she lives overseas?

In some cases, you can file jointly with your spouse if you were married by December 31 and your wife has a United States ITIN. You might have to claim her income/investments and any foreign taxes paid,

In other cases, you may have to file a Married Filing Separately status with your spouse.

For more personalized support on the issue of claiming dependents, please visit a local Liberty Tax Service office near you.

The IRS also has a handy tool with instructions to determine if you can claim a dependent.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been taken to provide the most accurate and honest analysis of the tax information provided in this blog. Please use your discretion before making any decisions based on the information provided. This blog is not intended to be a substitute for seeking professional tax advice based on your individual needs.