There are specific rules that need to be followed to determine who can claim a child as dependent when parents are divorced, separated, never married, or live apart. Understanding the specific rules about who may be eligible to claim the child for tax purposes can make filing taxes easier for both parents and avoid errors that may lead to processing delays or costly tax mistakes.

Who is considered a “qualifying child”:

  • The child must be taxpayer’s son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant of any of them.
  • The child must be:
    • Under age 19 at the end of the year, or
    • Under age 24 at the end of the year if a college student, or
    • Any age if permanently and totally disabled
  • The child must have lived with taxpayer for more than half of the year.
  • The child must not have provided more than half of his or her own support for the year.
  • The child must not be filing a joint return for the year.

Who may be eligible to claim the qualifying child as a dependent?

Only one person may be eligible to claim the qualifying child as a dependent. Parents can’t share or split up the tax benefits for their child on their respective tax returns. The child is claimed as a dependent on the custodial parent’s tax return. The custodial parent is the parent with whom the child lived for more than half of the year; the other parent is deemed “non-custodial”. In case of a tie, the custodial parent is the parent with the higher adjusted gross income.

Special rules for non-custodial parents

Non-custodial parents may be eligible to claim a qualifying child. The custodial parent can release the dependency exemption and sign a written declaration, or Form 8332, for the non-custodial parent to submit with their tax return. This also applies to the child tax credit and credit for other dependents but does not apply to other tax benefits such as the EIC, dependent care credit, or head of household filing status.

If you have any questions on claiming a child as a dependent or other tax issues, please reach out to SobelCo.

About the Authors

Giancarlo Revilla is an Accountant in the SobelCo Tax Practice. Giancarlo’s primary focus is tax services and compliance issues in the real estate and food & beverage industries.

For more information contact Giancarlo Revilla at

Mariana Moghadam is a Member of the Firm and is Tax Leader of the firm's Real Estate practice group. With more than 20 years of professional experience in public accounting and private industry, her extensive background covers a full range of domestic tax entities (corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, and REITs) and jurisdictions (federal, state, local, and multi-state taxes) as well as international matters.