Filing Taxes as a Single Parent: Who Gets the Child Dependent Tax Deduction?

Raising children can be one of the most fulfilling life experiences you’ll have, but it can be expensive. That’s why the IRS offers parents a tax break, otherwise known as a “Child & Dependent Care Tax Credit” to alleviate some of these expenses. If you’re filing taxes for the first time after a recent divorce, you may question whether you or your ex-spouse should file for the child dependent deduction. Luckily, the IRS has specific guidelines to help you determine which parent should claim child dependency for tax purposes. Here are some quick tips about child dependency deductions:

  • According to the IRS: The IRS states that only one parent may claim a child for tax exemption, when you are divorced or separated. The IRS states that the parent who has physical custody of the child for the majority of the year is entitled to claim the child as a dependent.

If both parents have equal custody of the child then the parent with the higher income would be considered the custodial parent for tax purposes and receive the tax break.

  • How long can you claim a child: Once a child reaches the age of 19, they are considered an adult and neither parent is seen as having custody. If the child is attending college the dependency deduction may be given to the parent who is contributing one-half of the child’s support until they reach the age of 24.
  • Judge has no power: It is important to understand a judge cannot order either party the right to receive child dependency deductions.

The noncustodial parent can receive the deduction if the custodial parent agrees to relinquish their right to the deduction. The appropriate paperwork must be completed and filed before the noncustodial parent receives the deductions. Having an experienced family law attorney is beneficial to you during this process, and can help to ensure the most amount of money is staying within the family.


It is important to consult a tax professional to get all the details and fully understand child dependency deductions.