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Wendy Reed
Wendy Reed, Enrolled Agent
Category: Tax
Satisfied Customers: 3346
Experience:  15+ years tax preparation and tax advice.
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Who claims a child on taxes with joint custody?

Customer Question

Who can claim a child on taxes if both parents have equal custody? 50/50 and father makes more than the mom so the father is still paying support.? No court docs state who should claim child.

Submitted: 8 years ago.
Category: Tax
Expert:  Wendy Reed replied 8 years ago.

When there is no signed document by the "custodial parent" then the IRS recognizes the custodial parents claim to dependency. However, most parents state that they have "joint custody" or "50/50 custody". Usually one parent has the child(ren) longer that the other, especially since each year has 365 days, (except for last year---366). The IRS recognizes overnights as a tool for counting time spent with each parent.

If there is a true situation that each parent had the child for exactly 183 days during the year, and the parents were separate for the entire year, then the child would not be considered a "qualifying child" of either parent, and could only be a qualified relative. In this case, whoever paid more than 50% of the child's support would be able to claim the child.

If the situation is that the parents were together for part of the year, and the child alternated between them for part of the year split up, and was with each parent exactly the same # of days, (For example 240 days with one parent, 240 days with the other parent---because of shared time for part of the year) then there is a tie-breaker situation and whoever had the highest adjusted gross income would be allowed to claim the child.

There is a very convoluted set of rules for this type of situation. You can read more about types of dependency, rules for children of divorced or separated parents, and tie-breaker situations in Publication 501, found at If you need additional clarification, please let me know.

Wendy Reed and other Tax Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 8 years ago.

My question is how can one prove they had child more than the other? If court docs state 50/50 custody and all time is to be split equally how can one prove this over other parent? All we have are the court docs and my word verses her word. I make more than her so I am paying her support on top of having equal custody so the tie breaker would be in my favor.

I have read the docs on which leads me to you. After reading I came to conclusion that I can claim my daughter but not sure how I would prove this besides my court docs stating equal custody and child support.

Expert:  Wendy Reed replied 8 years ago.

The IRS is very familiar with court docs that state "joint" and 50/50 custody. This is an ideal, and not what usually happens. Physical presence of the children is what determines "custodial parent". The fact that you pay child support is not in your favor, because generally the non-custodial parent pays child support.

To prove that you had your daughter longer, you should keep a contemporaneous log of parenting time, counting overnights.

Other things that the IRS will take into consideration with things like this are:

-School records (which parent is listed as primary contact---which address is listed as the child's home address?)

-Child care records

-Dr. records (contact and child's address)

Unfortunately, tax considerations should be mentioned in divorce decrees, or at least planned for or anticipated and used when determining child support--although states vary on use of tax considerations in family court. You may wish to take steps to have yourself on record as the "custodial parent" with school and your court documents if you truly have your daughter in custody for more than her other parent.