Claiming Dependents on Your Tax Return

Posted by Jill on March 19, 2015

Most taxpayers are well aware of the deduction that comes from claiming dependent children on their taxes. But what are the rules on claiming dependents on taxes? And what about other relatives? And, when can those formerly claimed as dependents on someone else’s return begin to claim themselves?

If someone else can claim you as a dependent, you cannot receive a personal exemption for yourself, and your standard deduction is limited. If you are filing using TurboTax, the program will help you determine the limitations.

You can claim someone as a dependent if they are a United States citizen, do not file a joint return, and meet either the qualifying child test or qualifying relative test, both discussed in IRS Publication 501 and explained below.

Qualifying Child

The most common reason to claim someone as a dependent on your taxes is because they are a qualifying child. To be a qualifying child, the dependent must meet all six of the following tests:

  • Relationship: the dependent must be your child (including foster, step, or adopted child), your sibling (including half or step), or any of their descendants (e.g., your grandchild, niece, or nephew)
  • Age: the dependent must be under 19 and younger than you (younger than either you OR your spouse if filing jointly), under 24 and a full-time student for at least part of 5 months of the calendar year, or permanently and totally disabled regardless of age.
  • Residency: the dependent must live with you for at least half the calendar year.
  • Support: the child cannot have provided more than half of his or her own support (i.e., necessary living expenses) for the year.
  • Joint Return: the child cannot have filed a joint return with a spouse, except if the return was only filed to claim a refund.
  • Special Test: if the parents are divorced, only one can claim the child as a qualifying child. If both would be otherwise eligible, this is usually the parent with the highest gross income, unless the parents have agreed otherwise.

Qualifying Relative

If your potential dependent does not qualify as a qualifying child, he may instead be classified as a qualifying relative, and still be claimed as a dependent. To be a qualifying relative, the dependent must meet all of the following tests. Note that there is no age test for a qualifying relative.

  • Not a qualifying child: A dependent cannot be deemed your qualifying relative if he is a qualifying child for you or any other taxpayer.
  • Relationship: the dependent must live with you OR, if he does not live with you, be your child (including foster, adopted, step, or in-law), your sibling (including half, step, or in-law), your parent or grandparent (including step or in-law but NOT including foster), or a direct descendant of any of the preceding relatives.
  • Gross income: the relative’s gross income must be less than $4,050 for 2016 year taxes.
  • Support: you must provide more than half of the support for this person during the year. If multiple parties combine to provide more than 50% (e.g., two adult children each provide 30% of a parent’s support), any one taxpayer who provides more than 10% can claim the relative with the written permission of the others.

With the tax deadline approaching, it’s important to understand the rules on claiming dependents on taxes and when claiming dependents is appropriate.

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Comments to Claiming Dependents on Your Tax Return

  1. I have a question. Hope you can help. I recently found out that my brother in law’s girlfriend claimed my two girls on her Income tax return with out my consent and i have called the cops and the IRS. Nobody seems to be doing anything about it. Any ideas what to do because My kids and i do not even talk to his girlfriend. I barely talk to my husband, so basically they have no contact at all with my kids so how can she claim them. I was looking towards fraud or something cause i never have them the kids the social security numbers. Also the girls have never lived with her or she has never provided at all for them. I don’t even talk to my brother in law. We never got along. What do i do?


    • You report tax violations directly to the IRS. The IRS does reward people that turn in tax dodgers. I think the reward is 10% of the amount recovered.

      Anon Seven

    • Did you support your children providing more than one-half of their support and lived with you more than one-half of the year? If so claim them on your tax return. If efile will not allow them because someone has already claimed them-file hard copy (a paper return) and be prepare to substantiate that you have supported them.

      Retired IRS agent, My Dollar Plan Tax Team

      • what prove should I have with my ammended filing to support that I have been sole support for thesewgrandchjildren that my daughter had someone else claim even thou I have had them liveing with my wife and I in my home with no support from either parent. She hasn’t worked and he work for cash under the table

        david moore

    • Gather school records & any proof you have of the children living in your home file your taxes with your children & send all proof & tax return to IRS. You may have to wait a bit but you will get your return as it should be to you & they will take action against your family member who claimed to start with. My brother in law had the same problem & that’s what we did. He got all that was due him.

      sabrina morris

  2. I have been with this man for 2 years. He gets a ssi check so he cannot claim taxes. I have provided for his 3 year old son for the past year. Can I claim him as my dependent?


  3. Can I claim my mother as a dependent if she is not a us citizen and does not live in the us? She has never lived here but I do send her money every month.


    • no! has to be living with u for over 6 months and u completely support her and ba a us a citizen


      • yes you can aslong as she sends you a copy of her voting card from whereever shes from and a birth certificate n copies of the statments were you send her money yes you can my mother did it for my grandparents and she claimed both of them in her taxes…because you are supporting them no matter if there over there n you here..


    • You cannot claim a person as a dependent unless that person is a US citizen, US resident alien, US national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico.

      You can claim your Mother as a dependent if you provide over one-half her support and she did not have gross income of more than $ 3,700.

      Your Mother is considered “a Relative who does not have to live with you” to qualify for dependency exemption for a qualifying relative.

      Retired IRS agent, My Dollar Plan Tax Team

      • Is it $3,700 Gross a Year?


      • Can i claim my brother who is living with me and goes to college ? i pay for his tuition , food etc. He is not a US citizen though, but has been living here as student for over 1.5 years.


  4. have a question. im having problems with my girlfriend over claiming my daughter as my depedant. she lives with her parents and i pay all of my daughters expenses now its tax time and she want her stepdad who isnt legally married to her mother to claim her on his tax return. can he do so with out my consent?


  5. i have a question i just had a baby in febuary of 2011, i just started working agian i prolly wont make over 5 grand this year. my bf will make about 25 grand who should claim our daughter to get the best refund?


    • Do you and our boyfriend live together with the child? If you all live together it would be best for him to claim head of house hold & claim baby as his dependent..That will get you the biggest if you guys do not live goes by whoever the child spends the most nights with out of the year (usually the child has to live with you @leaast 6mnths out of the year)


  6. I have a question about claiming a dependant. My mom adopted my children, but she is on SSI and disablity. Am I able to claim the children and my mother?


  7. My sister and her husband and their 3 kids lived with me from September 2010 to July 20th 2011. My sister did not work at all, her husband only worked 5 of the 7 1/2 months they lived with me. His gross income for 2011 was 36,000 and mine is 65,000.00

    My sister has a child from another man (never married). My sisters husband has a child from another marriage in which child never see’s nor is child support paid. Then they have 1 child together.

    I provided 80% of all costs even clothes and school supplies as well as all the bills and rent. They moved out on July 20th 2011 and i know they will try to claim their kids on their taxes, but i dont feel that is legally right since they did not provide 50% or more for their children for the 2011 tax year, since they only did it for 5 1/2 months. How can i legally claim them on taxes?


  8. I think I am out of luck but I have a question…My fiancee and I live together and have 2 kids. I claimed them on my taxes like I always do because he owes arrears to his ex-wife and she gets his return. I went to file his taxes right after mine and found out that if he would have claimed the kids it would have paid off his arrears and gave us back more than we are getting with just my return. I feel sick. Is there anything I can do to tell the IRS I changed my mind and I would rather him claim the kids? Might be a stupid question, but I am hopeful!


    • The question is who paid more than one half of the children’s support. If your fiancee, who is their father, paid more than one half of the support and you both lived together with the children all year, you may both file amended returns so that the returns are correct. You must file amended returns (1040x) for the IRS within three years of the due date of the return.

      Retired IRS agent, My Dollar Plan Tax Team

  9. I have a question and am not sure how to go about it. I have a child with someone who I was never married to. She is the custodial parent we have a joint custody agreement but he lives with her 4 out of 7 days a week. I pay child support. in the court order and joint custody agreement I am to claim him on even year and she is to claim on odd years unless she does work and that claiming him would benefit her then it defaults to me for claiming him. she hasn’t worked in the last 4 years. So I have claimed him all of the last 4 years. well last year she work for a total of maybe 3 months and already claimed him. she has 5 children and I though you could claim a maximum of 4 before it didn’t benifit, and I thought you had to work a certain amount before it would benefit her. I want to know who would be in the right of claiming him in the eyes of the IRS


  10. Could someone explain to me why I cannot claim my fiancee as a dependent? Although she earned $11,000, this money was used pay off student loans and the remainder was sent back home to her parents. I paid 100% of her support, but I cannot claim her because she must earn less than 3700.




  12. Is the requirement of being a student applicable if a full-time student just PART of at least 5 months? My son graduated from college in early May and has lived at home all year. I just wanted to be sure I could still claim him, even though he did have a job but we provided all his housing and food, etc. Thanks.


  13. My fiance who is not the biological father of my children claimed my two daughters as head of household and even thou he will receive his federal income tax refund, he is being audited by the state. The papers state he is the stepfather, not father on the papers. We have been cohabitating for the past year in a half even thou we have been together for 4 years and is a father figure to my kids. He supports me and the children. I have not worked the last year and a half and I am the custodial parent.The biological father is not claiming the children. I am receiving conflicting information. We lived together since May 2010 and he provides more than 50% of support even before he moved in, they are minor children and us citizens. The person who prepared our taxes told us this was perfectly legal. We are in the process of gathering the papers that the state requested. I am afraid of the state telling us we did something wrong. If in fact it is wrong, what can we do to make things right and make sure we file the correct way if the it does not go through. We are not going to spend the federal refund until everything is clear.


    • The state some times does audits when filing status or you’re filing differently or claiming new people. It’s no big deal just provide what they ask for


  14. I have been divorce for years from my exhusband. we have a disabled 34 yr old son who live with me. I used to file my son on my tax return. I would like for my sister to used my disabled son as a dependent on her tax return this year. how do i go by doing this. She took good care of my son last year. Can my exhusband intervene,he hasn’t did anything since he taken sick 13years ago.


  15. I have a biological son who lives in Panama. He does not live with me but I provide over 50% of his support. His mother is a Panamanian national and cannot claim him. He is an American citizen. According to Turbo Tax I get a tax benefit but the IRS contacted me and stated that if he did not live with me for a least six months out of the year I cannot claim him. I had to pay $1800.00 in back child support for 2009. This year I answered all questions honestly on turbo tax and stated that he did not live with me no months during the year and they still gave me the tax credit. I’m confused.


  16. My husband and I have a 20 year old daughter. She lived with us and we provided her support until she got married in November 2011. She and her husband filed a joint return. How do I determine if it was “only to claim a refund” so that I can claim her as a dependent for last year?


  17. My ex claimed the kids on his tax return because I did not work this past year. I have custody of the kids and he has visitation once a week. We agreed that he would claim them on his return but that he would give the amount to me once he received to me. I had him put this in writing. But now he refuses to do so. Is there anything I can do? Would this hold up in court?


  18. Can I claim my son on my taxes.He has lived with me since April.It is in his moms decree that she can claim him because he lived with her at that time.Now I have him and she pays no support and contributes nothing.She says she is going to claim him..I feel this is so wrong. Thanks,Scott


  19. I have 2 sisters (both US citizens) living outside the US to study. I am the one who’s supporting their college education by paying their tuition fees via money transfer. My father died in 2011, a retired navy, so my mom and two sisters are getting pension but it isn’t enough so I ended up supporting their other basic needs. Can I claim my two sisters?


  20. I have a question I am living with my boyfriend and his parents and they asked to claim me and my son and boyfriend on her tXes….but his mom doesn’t provid for us and we do not work at all , we are on welfare can she claim us just cuz we live with her??


    • Housing is considered part of “providing for you.”


  21. Can my girlfriends parents claim our newborn baby on there Taxes without my concern?


  22. I have claim my son sense he been born and he’s mother don’t work and he lives with the both if us can she claim my son if I take care of him


    • If his mother didn’t/doesn’t work, then how could she file at all?


  23. My 31 yr old son and his daughter live with us. My son had surgery 1/2012 and has not been able to work, except 3 days the entire year. I understand I will be able to claim my grandaughter but will I also be able to claim my son?

    Beth Parrish

  24. My son is 21 and lives home he grossed about 12,000 this year and i grossed only 7,000 this year because i got layed off an was getting unemployement. i have three other children should i claim my son and his income or let him claim his self as single. Also my 17 year old grossed 600 should i claim her income with mine i have 2 other younger children.


  25. My daughter is 18 not working, not enrolled in school. Can I calim her as a dependant?


    • Denise,
      If she meets the other requirements above, including providing her support, you can still claim her at age 18.


  26. can i claim my girlfriend if she a college student and i pay for all here bills and lived with me for 3yr


  27. I am trying to efile and claim my grandaughter who doe not live with me ( as a qualifing relative) whom which I have financially supported for over half of the yr because her mother did not work and had zero income. When trying to efile it asks how many months did this dependant live with you, I answered 0. It says she is not a dependant , I have read the laws and we meet all requirements. The choices are, a. The dependant lived with you. B. Other dependant. C. Not a dependant this yr. D.nondependent claiming EIC only. I do not know how to claim her.


    • Sandy,

      Which tax filing software are you using?
      Does it work to select B. other dependent?


  28. Hi, i have a question, my brother has been living with me since late 2011 and he doesn’t work. The only time he worked was last year only for one month in May of 2012. I support him cause he has no money. Can I claim him on my tax return? But then he also got his tax return for the one month that he’s worked?? How does this work???


  29. My bf has primary custody of his two boys the mother has the right to have them every other weekend and is finacially responsible while she has them she also has the right to claim one child. She has prob. Had them a handful of times in the past year and does not work her father supports her & let’s her live there. We paid over $3000 in summer camp/child care for both kids and if she claims one we won’t get child care re-embursment for the one we don’t claim. Is there a way around this since she didn’t finacially contribute at all ? And how much would she get for claiming one child with no W2’s since she didn’t work last year in the state of Maine?


  30. My child turned 19 in January 2012. She lives at home but she did work last year. I pay all the bills. Can I claim her as a dependent?? Does it matter how much she made??


  31. Question my sister is on welfare with her 3 kids and lives with her. There is no court ordered child support, but there father gives them a few dollars once in a while. They live with there mother all year, can there father claim them on his tax returns and if he does will he be in trouble?


  32. Hi, i have a question if anyone can help me please. My daughter has a 6 year old son and they both live here with me. The father of the son still sees my daughter now and then however he still lives at home with his own parents. The father works, however he does not pay support nor does his son stay or live with him at any time, so therefore he only sees his son when he comes to my house. My daughter is not working at this time and i am disabled but i do most of everything for my 6 ear old grandson. I found out about 3 years ago that the father has been filing on his son, however he doesnt support him and his son doesnt live or stay with him. What can be done about this? I really do not think this is fair since i am the one supporting my grandson. Please any help would be really appreciated alot. Thank you


  33. my kids are 19 and 22…both have part time jobs grossing 5-7000…..we, the parents, pay 100% of their care…they are not full time students…..can i claim them?..if so, do i claim their pay?..if not, how do we all file?…i really need help….thanks.


  34. my daughter who’s 22 and a full time student run away from home in May 2011 and we still claimed her as a dependent for the 6 months she lived with us. She moved with her boyfriends parents, both on disability, food stamps and every other government help they can get. If she’s not in our tax return, we will not be able to provide her with health insurance, flex spending or HRA accounts. Our tax return was rejectedand the reason given to us was because she has been claimed in someone else’s tax return. I understand they provided food for her for 6 months, but we paid for her medical bills and I don’t believe she can pass the dependent test since she is not married to their son, and she is too old to be a foster child (in case they wanted to consider her like that). What are my rights to claim her as a dependent? She is under psychiatric care and needs health insurance, which they can’t provide. Do they have the right to claim her as a dependent?

    L. Somar

  35. I am 17years old and have a part time job I want to file for taxes but my father claims me. My question is can he take my money because of the fact that I am a minor? Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening?


  36. My husband and I have lived apart all of 2012. We made the decision for my two daughters (his step daughters) to live with him because of my job demands and I work odd hours and can’t pay for child care. I let him claim them on his taxes and he got audited. It asks for utility bills however all bills are still in my name because to transfer in his would have costed to much money. How does he go about providing the IRS with this information and would a notarized statement be sufficient enough??


  37. Ihave an adult daughter who lives with me and i pay all the living expense. she works and made around 12,000. can i claim her

    hilda mitchell

  38. My mother totally supported(100%)her grandson that lived with her for the entirety of 2012. He is 23 and does not attend school. His income was less that $2000 for 2012. Her tax preparer told her that she can not claim him on her taxes because he did not attend school. Can’t she claim him as a “qualifying relative”?


  39. Ok, me and my brother haven’t lived with my mom in over a year now because we live with our dad. Well, she had claimed me and my brother on her taxes and took our money and spent it even though she has 4 other kids. What are we supposed to do ?


  40. I have a question, ok so through out the entire year of 2012 I was living on my own on military orders. I made my own income and all that. But now, my military orders ended and now I’m living back with my parents as of march 2013.

    I tried to e-file this year but got rejected saying that I was claimed as a dependent. Sure enough I checked with my parents and they had claimed me. I am 19 and this would have been my first year filing.
    Is this illegal? Can I still get my refund somehow?


  41. Question!

    My brother and sister-n-law have claimed my mom on their taxes(well,actually,my brother up until 2006 whenever he passed away)for 37 years.

    And from doing so they were supposed to cover her property taxes only from 1975-1997 and then from 1997-current her property taxes and her electric bill.


    Problem is now,my “B” sister-in-law is trying to own my mothers home for paying for these things and this was not their agreement!

    My mothers home was in my brothers name b/c she had originally traded him 2 houses she had for 1(can prove this) and now I’m trying to help my mom get all of this straight.

    My sister-in-law is a PIG in every since of the word who has plenty of $ but not enough I guess since she feels the need to steal from an 87 year old lady!

    Any idea how much $ that my late brother,PIG sister-in-law have made from claiming her?

    I called IRS 6 months ago about this and someone(?) was supposed to get back in touch with us but it never happened.


  42. My husband and I have been married for almost 10 years till heb passed away on the 18th of July.. we had 2 daughters together and he had a son that lived with us. My husband was the primary custodial parent.. so do I vlaim my step son on social security and what rights do I have to him now that his dad is deceased


  43. My wife and I work in the US for 5 months. My kids live oversea with their grandparents. We live with them more than 6 months oversea. Can we claim them on our returns? Are they qualify for residency even we live oversea with them? We all are US citizen. Thank you.


  44. I have a question. My sister lives in a different state then me and does not work. She has a child. I have paid for her and her child’s expenses. Can I claim them?


  45. Hello, I am married with a child, my husband is considered the breadwinner if I do not file my W 2’s for this year can I file them with my next year 2016 taxes and if so how do I go about doing that, do I just add them in as normal with my 2016 w-2’s? Also will there be penalties and interest?


  46. I live at my uncles house and am paid to take care of his kids while he works out of state, they’re mom is in jail. I don’t think I made more than 3500 last year, and he pays for stuff like the mortgage and heating and other utility bills.

    Was wondering 1) if I have to file taxes and 2) can he claim me as a dependant.


  47. I filed my taxes but got rejected, can my sister still claim me as a dependent because i got rejected?

    Izael Johnson

  48. My daughter lived with me for 5 months last year, I financially supported her 100%. Can I claim her for a partial year, or not at all?


  49. I have a question, my mom and dad claimed me, but didn’t put on their that I worked, and I was wanting to file my taxes. Will that effect their tax return? Please let me know of any answers…


  50. My only income in 2015 was about $2100 from cashing in old savings bonds, so that would be unearned income. I am claimed as a dependent. Do I have to file taxes?


  51. i just found out my mother who has been doing my taxes for the last ten years has claimed my daughter for the last ten years with my permisisions i also have two other children what can i do

    windell mcmillion

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