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When Is a Child Truly a Dependent?


You want to continue to claim your child as a dependent, but he or she is getting older. What’s the cutoff time? The IRS says that your child must meet either the qualifying child or the qualifying relative tests (see below). There are other important considerations as well.

For example, age, residence and support are requirements for claiming a dependent child. Having a child doesn’t guarantee that you have a dependent. The IRS has a string of tests for whether your child, who may be a stepchild, foster child, adopted child or grandchild, is a qualifying child.

  • You must stop claiming children when they turn 19, unless they go on to become full-time students. Then, you can keep claiming the exemption until they’re 24.
  • After age 24, you can only claim children if they’re completely disabled.
  • If your child marries and starts filing a joint return, even if under age 19, you lose the right to claim him or her on your taxes.

There are other considerations:

  • You can claim a qualifying child exemption if your child lives with you for at least half the year.
  • If your 20-year-old is at college eight months of the year, you can still claim him or her.
  • If your child stays with relatives while you’re on military duty, he or she still qualifies.
  • If you divorce and your son or daughter winds up living with your ex most of the year, however, you will probably lose the ability to claim him or her.
  • To keep the exemption, you must provide at least half the child’s financial support for the year.

And what is meant by a qualifying relative? This can be complicated, as there are a lot of provisions and exceptions. The calculations have changed, thanks to the tax reform provisions passed in late 2017. Current IRS guidance notes that a qualifying relative, among provisions, must be an individual who bears a specific relationship to the taxpayer and who receives over one-half of his or her support from the taxpayer during the relevant period. There may be additional guidance in this area as tax season approaches.

The point is not to make any assumptions about whether a child or any other relative is or is not a dependent for tax purposes. As you can see, there are a lot of complications and subtleties. Be sure to discuss your particular situation with a qualified professional, especially as filing time approaches.


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Our firm provides the information in this e-newsletter for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation. Tax articles in this e-newsletter are not intended to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding accuracy-related penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The information is provided "as is," with no assurance or guarantee of completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.
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