My ex-spouse has already claimed our child as a dependent, but the child lived with me all year. How is it decided which parent claims the child on taxes? Can I claim the child? If so, how do I file?


Usually, the custodial parent gets to claim the qualifying child (or qualifying children) as dependents. This is true unless you have a divorce decree stating otherwise.

If you feel that you should be able to claim the dependent, you’ll need to print and mail your return. You won’t be able to e-file. The IRS won’t allow two different people to e-file using the same dependent Social Security number (SSN).

The IRS will then send a letter to both of you to determine who gets to claim the exemption for the qualifying relative.

If you can’t agree on who claims the child, the tie-breaker rules apply.

Under the tie-breaker rules, the child is a qualifying child only for:

  • The parent with whom the child lived the longest during the tax year
  • The parent with the highest adjusted gross income (AGI). This applies if the child lived with each parent for the same amount of time during the tax year.
  • The person with the highest AGI if no parent can claim the child as a qualifying child
  • A person with an AGI higher than any parent who can claim the child as a qualifying child but doesn’t

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