You can claim a $4,050 dependent tax exemption for each qualifying child under federal tax law. Married couples filing jointly generally claim their children on their return, which is easy enough to manage between them. But when parents file separately, which often happens in the case of divorce or separation, the familiar tug-of-war over the kid(s) can extend to tax returns.
So what happens if someone else claims your child as a dependent?
Your Child, Your Exemption?
It's fairly common for multiple taxpayers to try and claim the same child as a dependent. So the IRS has developed a series of black-and-white rules for determining who wins out.
To start, it's always the legal parent who can claim a child for tax purposes. You should know who that is, as it's pretty straightforward. A legal parent has priority over another parent-like figure or relative.
If there are two legal parents (again, common for divorced or separated parents) then it's generally the custodial parent who claims the child. The IRS gives weight to residency, and the custodial parent will meet the requirements.
Exception for Dependent Exemption
As ever, there are exceptions. The main one is that assuming a child otherwise qualifies as a dependent, a non-custodial parent can still claim the child under some circumstances.
This requires the parent claiming the child to submit a written declaration, signed by the custodial parent, that they won't claim the child as a dependent when filing. It's something that can be worked out between parents or, potentially, as part of a divorce settlement or custody agreement.