Qualifying Child and Qualifying Relative

To claim a dependency exemption or a tax credit for dependents, the dependent must satisfy the requirements for a qualifying child or relative, the primary requirement being that the taxpayer claiming the dependent provided more than ½ of the dependent's support during the tax year and the dependent's residence was the same as the taxpayer's for more than ½ of the year. A taxpayer may also claim certain deductible expenses, such as medical expenses, that are paid on behalf of a qualifying child or relative. A non-relative can also be claimed as a dependent if he lived with the taxpayer for the entire calendar year and the living arrangement does not violate local law.

Qualifying Child

A qualifying child must satisfy 5 requirements listed in IRC §152 (c):

  1. The qualifying child must satisfy the relationship requirement, by being 1 of the following:
    • son or daughter, either as a natural child or stepchild, or a descendant thereof;
    • sibling, stepsibling, or a descendant thereof;
    • foster or adopted child.
  2. The individual must, by the end of the calendar year, be younger than 19 or younger than 24 if a full-time student. There is no age limitation for a permanently disabled child.
  3. Dependents must have the same principal residence as the taxpayer for more than ½ of the year. This residency requirement excludes temporary absences such as for illness, school, vacation, or military service where the child intends to return. However, special rules apply to children of divorced or separated parents. A child who is either born or dies during the tax year is considered to have lived with the taxpayer for the entire year if the child lived in the taxpayer's home while still alive.
  4. The claimed dependent must not have provided more than ½ of their own support during the year, even if they were able to. However, income from scholarships is not considered support.
  5. Only 1 dependent can be claimed by 1 individual, so in those cases where more than 1 taxpayer can claim a dependent, the taxpayers must decide who will claim the exemption.

If a child fails to meet all the requirements of a qualifying child, the individual may still be claimed as a qualifying relative, if they meet the requirements.

The taxpayer claiming the qualified child is the only one that can claim the following for that child:

Qualifying Relative

A qualifying relative includes all the relationships defined for a qualifying child, but also includes (IRC §152 (d)):

A qualifying relative satisfies the qualifying relative relationship test if the relationship satisfies the qualifying child relationship test or any of the relatives listed above except for the last item. These relatives do not need to reside with the taxpayer to be claimed as a qualifying relative. For instance, even if the parent lives elsewhere, a child providing for more than half of the parent's support can claim a dependency exemption for the parent. Note that any qualifying relationship that was established by marriage is not ended by divorce or death for that tax year.

However, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles, can only be claimed if they are blood relatives of the taxpayer claiming the dependency exemption. A spouse or a qualifying child either of the taxpayer or of any other taxpayer can never be claimed as a qualifying relative.

Support test. The taxpayer must provide more than ½ of the individual's support for the calendar year. The dependent's own funds are not counted unless they are actually spent for the dependent's support.

Gross Income Test
for Qualifying Relative
Year Maximum Income
2024 $5,050
2023 $4,700
2022 $4,400
2020 - 2021 $4,300
2019 $4,200
2018 $4,150

The dependent's gross income must be less than the gross income limit for a qualifying relative, which is adjusted for inflation. For a qualifying relative, statutory gross income, which is gross income without any deductions, is considered in deciding whether the qualifying relative earned at least the gross income limit for a qualifying relative. Excludable income, such as exempt interest, disability, or Social Security payments, is not included in the statutory gross income, but is considered for determining whether the taxpayer has furnished more than half of the dependent's support.

Example: When Can a Taxpayer Claim a Parent as a Dependent

The new tax package passed by the Republicans at the end of 2017, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, has eliminated the personal exemption, but has set the amount of the maximum income for a qualifying relative, which is adjusted annually for inflation.

Moreover, a qualifying relative:

Alimony or separate maintenance payments or distributions from the an estate or trust to a legally separated or divorced payee spouse is not considered support provided by the payer spouse, but a distribution from an estate or trust designated as support for the payer spouse’s minor children is considered support provided by the payer.

The Difference Between a Qualifying Child and a Qualifying Relative

The main difference between a qualifying child and a qualifying relative is the following:

Separated or Divorced Parents: Tax Benefits for the Custodial and Noncustodial Parent

Tax rules change for separated or divorced parents. Most of the tax benefits of children can still be claimed by the custodial parent, but some tax breaks are available to both parents, and some tax breaks can be available to the noncustodial parent if the custodial parent agrees to allow it.

For children of divorced or separated parents, the parent who has primary custody of the child can claim the dependency exemption. If the child spends an equal amount of time with each parent, then the parent with the highest adjusted gross income can claim the dependency exemption.

However, the custodial parent can waive the dependency exemption if:

The custodial parent must fill out and sign Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, which allows the custodial parent to grant the exemption for the current year and for future years by specifying the tax years for which the exemption will be valid. The noncustodial parent must attach Form 8332 to his tax return for each year the exemption is claimed. The noncustodial parent can also claim the child tax credit and any educational credits if the noncustodial parent paid the educational expenses. Part 3 of Form 8332 allows a custodial parent to revoke a previous waiver of the right to the exemption for the child in a future year. However this revocation does not take effect until the year following in which a copy of the revocation is provided to the noncustodial parent.

Even if the noncustodial parent claims the dependency exemption, the custodial parent can still claim head of household filing status, dependent care credit, exclusion of dependent care benefits, and the earned income tax credit. The custodial parent can also still claim the child as a beneficiary of fringe benefits provided by the custodial parent's employer.

Summary: Tax Benefits for the Custodial and Noncustodial Parent

Tax breaks available to both parents, even without Form 8332:

Tax breaks available only to the custodial parent:

Tax breaks that the noncustodial parent can claim and the custodial parent cannot claim, if the custodial parent permits it, by signing Form 8332. The noncustodial parent must file Form 8332 with his tax return for every year that the permission is granted:

Note that most of these credits and deductions are reduced or eliminated for higher income taxpayers. Details are provided in the referenced articles.

Tie-Breaking Rules For Claiming the Same Dependent

Tie-breaking rules apply if more than one taxpayer can claim the same dependent.

Married dependents who file jointly cannot be claimed as a dependent unless a joint return was filed solely to obtain a refund and neither spouse would have any tax liability if they filed separately.

If 2 or more taxpayers can claim the same qualifying child, then the following tie-breaking rules apply:

The rules for deciding who can claim a qualifying child also decides who can claim the child for the following:

Multiple Support Declaration, Form 2120

If any taxpayer cannot claim more than ½ of the support for an individual, but the individual is supported by several individuals under a multiple support agreement, then any taxpayer who provided more than 10% of the dependent's support can claim the dependency exemption if a multiple support declaration is filed. The taxpayer claiming the dependency exemption must attach Form 2120, Multiple Support Declaration to his return, which states that each person who contributed more than 10% of support has signed a written declaration stating that they will not claim the exemption. The declaration statement must include the calendar years for which the waiver applies, the name of the qualifying dependent, and each taxpayer's name, address, and social security number who could have claimed the exemption. These written declarations should be retained by the taxpayer claiming the exemption, so that they are available if the IRS requests them, since they are not filed with the tax return.