Coates & Davenport, P.C.

Which parent claims a child as dependent after divorce?

Divorce between two parents is rarely easy, but some parents cause themselves unnecessary frustration and risk compromising the quality of life they provide to their children in the process. Often, this is because they do not properly address all the pertinent issues in their custody and parenting agreements.

If you struggle to reach fair agreements with your spouse about how you plan to raise your child after your divorce, you are not alone. Virtually all parents who divorce face difficulty reaching consensus on custody and parenting issues. In many cases, however, the scope of child custody and parenting agreements is so great that many parents miss important benefits or restrictions because they rush through the process or prioritize emotional victories over practical solutions.

One of the most commonly contentious issues at hand in a child custody dispute is which parent should claim the child as a dependent come tax season. The tax benefits one gains when claiming a child are significant and can mean potentially thousands of dollar in associated deductions, exemptions, and credits. If two parents do not work out specifically which of them will claim the child as a dependent in a given year, they may be in for costly lessons in amending tax returns.

Which parent may claim a child?

When parents divorce, they must choose which of them claims a child in a given tax year. The IRS does not allow parents who live separately to both claim the same child in the same year on their respective tax returns.

Should both parents choose to claim the same child on their tax returns in the same year, the IRS may simply reject one return or amend it and deny one parent the dependent benefits. This may incur an unexpected tax obligation or even invite additional scrutiny by the IRS into the parents' finances.

In general, a parent who retains primary custody of a child may claim that child as a dependent. However, many parents share roughly equal parenting duties, which may complicate the matter. If you and your child's other parent both believe that you deserve to claim the child as a dependent, you may consider agreeing to alternate years claiming the child.

Don't wait to address dependent tax benefits

It is wise to use your parenting and custody agreements to outline how you will both deal with this important issue. However you resolve the matter, be sure that both parents understand the implications and put it down in writing.

You may find it useful to enlist the guidance of an experienced attorney to keep your rights as a parent protected and ensure that you can truly provide the best quality of life available to the child you love.

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