Dependent Taxpayer Test
To claim a dependent --- child or otherwise --- on your tax return, you must be independent. If your parent, spouse or other relative could claim you as a dependent you are ineligible to claim dependents of your own. If you are married to someone that is or could be claimed as a dependent by another party, you cannot file a joint return and claim a dependent. You would have to file as married and filing separately and you alone could claim your child as a dependent.
Joint Return Test and Single Claim
You cannot claim a married child if he files a joint tax return, unless that return is purely for refund purposes. If you have young married children, they cannot be paying taxes on their own and still be claimed as your dependents. You cannot claim a dependent who is also claimed by someone else --- there can only be one claim per dependent. If you are married and filing jointly this is equivalent to one claim.
Citizen or Resident Test
A child you claim as a dependent must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident or must be a resident of Mexico or Canada. U.S. Nationals in American Samoa or the Northern Mariana Islands also qualify. If you have legally adopted a child but the child does not have U.S. citizenship, you may claim her as a dependent if she has lived with you all year or if she was legally placed with you for the purpose of adoption.
For tax purposes, a "child" is defined as a person under the age of 19 or, if he is a full-time student, under the age of 24. You (or your spouse, if filing jointly) must be older than the child in both cases if you would like to claim him as a dependent.
The child must be a relative: your son or daughter, stepchild, sibling, half-sibling or step-sibling. The child may also be a descendant of one of these: a grandchild, niece or nephew also qualifies. Adopted children are considered your sons and daughters for tax purposes, as are legal foster children. Permanently disabled children may remain dependents regardless of age.
A child must have lived with you for the majority of the year to qualify as your dependent. Exceptions to this rule include students away from home for school, illness or military service. In the case of divorce or separation, the child is said to live with the custodial parent in most cases. There are a number of different exceptions to this rule that depend on individual situations. IRS Publication 504 provides specific information on divorced and separated family exceptions (see "Resources").
The child cannot provide more than half her own support for the year or she will be considered independent. Educational scholarships are not considered support for this purpose.
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