Information regarding browser or device support

Oh no! We may not fully support the browser or device software you are using !

To experience our site in the best way possible, please update your browser or device software, or move over to another browser.


Filing your 2023 taxes as a single parent?

Jo Willetts, EA

Director, Tax Resources

Published on: June 14, 2023

It’s never been more complex to be a single parent. Having to balance children, work, and other obligations may mean that taxes understandably get pushed to the backburner until the last possible moment. It’s important to file early to make sure that you can save money on taxes.

If you’re a single parent looking to file your 2023 taxes, we want to help you make use of deductions, child tax credits, and other strategies that may reduce the amount of tax you pay.

As always, connect with your tax professional when it’s time to file and whenever you may have questions. From understanding filing status options to leveraging available credits and deductions, we have you covered.

What are my options for filing status?

Let’s begin with filing status. There are five filing statuses that you may consider: married filing jointly; married filing separately; qualifying surviving spouse (which used to be qualifying widow(er); head of household; and single.

Head of household

There are a lot of potential benefits–namely, paying less in taxes--that the IRS may provide with the head of household designation as a single parent.  

Filing as head of household can afford you a lower tax rate than if you file single or married filing separately, and also may allow for a higher standard deduction.

To qualify, you’d have to be unmarried on the last day of the tax year, contribute more than half of the total household income, and your children would have to live with you more than six months of the year. 

Beyond head of household

Every situation is different, so we’ll go through some other potential filing statuses.

You may choose “married.” If you’re still married, or just married as of midnight December 31, of the year (even if not living together or haven’t lived together for a long time). In this case, you won’t be filing as a single parent. 

You may choose “single” if you’re legally separated, fully divorced, or never married.

This is where a tax professional can assist you in deciding what makes the most sense for your individual situation. Filing statuses are based on dependents and legal marital status.

For example, you may file under a “qualifying surviving spouse” designation, if you have been widowed in the past two years and have dependent children. This can be used for the first and second year after the spouse’s death. The year of death is a “married filing jointly” year. You won’t qualify for this status if you don’t have children under 19 or 24 (if the child is a full-time student.)

Married filing jointly

We know life is complicated, so there may be other filing statuses you may elect to choose, even if technically a single parent. Married Filing Jointly taxpayers  are legally married but may not live together and may not have lived together for a long time. The key criteria are if you are still married and are willing to file a joint tax return.

This filing status has the lowest taxes, the highest standard deduction, and the best credit environment. The one possible caution with this filing status – it makes both taxpayers fully responsible for what is on the return and the total balance due or refund.

Married filing separately

With this status, the only thing you may be responsible for is your own income, deductions, and credits. The IRS wouldn’t be able to pursue your spouse for any missing income or unpaid taxes. The downside of this status is the limited number of credits and deductions available, and the potential increase in taxes.

A married filing separately taxpayer needs their spouse’s Social Security number, can’t claim their spouse as a dependent, and must claim their share of community property (including wages and self-employment income) if they live in one of the nine community property states.

Establishing qualifying dependents

There are extensive IRS rules around who can claim a child as a dependent.

Some of the conditions include:

  • The relationship test: The child must be your son, daughter, stepchild, adopted child, or eligible foster child–or descendant (for example, a grandchild or great-grandchild). The child may also be a sibling, half-sibling, stepsibling, or descendant (for example, nephew or niece).
  • Age test: The child must be under age 19, a full-time student under age 24, or any age if permanently and totally disabled. NOTE: The taxpayer must be older than the child, unless the child is disabled.
  • Residency test: The child must have the same main home as you for more than half the year. The child must also be a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico.
  • Support test: The child cannot provide more than half of their own support.
  • Joint return test: The child cannot file a joint return with someone.

For divorced or separated taxpayers, the IRS recognizes the physical custodial parent as the one eligible to claim the dependent. As mentioned above, it’s important to file early to make sure that you’re able to claim your dependents. 

If the custodial parent completes and signs Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent and provides it to the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent can claim the child tax credit(s) for any eligible children.

The child must be a dependent of the custodial parent.

A custodial parent is defined by the IRS as the parent a child lived with for more than half the year. This half year is counted by nights the child slept in the parent’s home or another home, but under the parent’s control. For example, spending the night with a friend, but living with mom, but she gave permission for a sleepover.

It’s important to note that if two or more taxpayers claim the same child, the IRS will use the “Tie-Breaker Rule” to determine who is eligible.

You can always speak about your specific situation with your tax professional when questions arise.

Child tax credit

The best way to calculate the child tax credit is with an expert, but the credit is largely based on your income and number of dependents you have. You will need to complete Schedule 8812 (“Credits for Qualifying Children and Other Dependents”). The credit phases out for single taxpayers and heads of households whose income is $200,000 or more in the tax year.

Dependent care credits

Single parents know better than anyone that it takes a village to raise a child.

You may be able to claim the IRS Child and Dependent Care Credit if you paid expenses for the care of a qualifying individual to enable you to work, actively interview, or look for work.

Generally, you may not take this credit if your filing status is married filing separately. The amount of the credit is a percentage of the amount of work-related expenses you paid to a care provider for the care of a qualifying individual. The percentage depends on your adjusted gross income.

The total expenses that you may use to calculate the credit may not be more than $3,000 (for one qualifying individual) or $6,000 (for two or more qualifying individuals).

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Another important credit is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a tax benefit primarily designed to help low- to moderate-income individuals and families who earned under a certain threshold or are in a certain tax bracket.

This credit is “refundable,” which means that when EITC exceeds a certain amount of taxes owed, it could result in a refund, the amount of which varies by income, family size, and filing status.

What about child support payments?

If you have a divorce agreement dated January 1, 2019, or after, you don't have to include information about alimony payments on your federal income tax returns, since they aren’t considered income or a deduction.

Alimony payments for divorce or separation agreements entered into prior to January 1, 2019, are typically deductible by the payor and must be reported as taxable income by the recipient.

Credits for education expenses

You can claim an education credit for qualified education expenses paid by cash, check, credit or debit card, or with money from a loan. If you pay the expenses with money from a loan, you take the credit for the year you pay the expenses, not the year you get the loan or the year you repay the loan.

Qualified expenses are amounts paid for tuition, fees, and other related expenses for an eligible student that are needed for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution. You must pay the expenses for an academic period that starts during the tax year or the first three months of the next tax year.

Navigating the tax year

If you’re looking for help with how to navigate the ins and outs of filing as a single parent, filing as early as possible and knowing the tax deductions you might qualify for can help you prepare for tax season and encourage you to keep track of your household and childcare expense spending throughout the year.

Stay informed and stay on top of your taxes by getting in touch with Jackson Hewitt. Our Tax Pros are happy to answer any questions you may have on self-employment tax deductions.

About the Author

Jo Willetts, Director of Tax Resources at Jackson Hewitt, has more than 35 years of experience in the tax industry. As an Enrolled Agent, Jo has attained the highest level of certification for a tax professional. She began her career at Jackson Hewitt as a Tax Pro, working her way up to General Manager of a franchise store. In her current role, Jo provides expert knowledge company-wide to ensure that tax information distributed through all Jackson Hewitt channels is current and accurate.

Jackson Hewitt Editorial Policy

When every dollar matters, it matters who does your taxes™


    Our Tax Pros will connect with you one-on-one, answer all your questions, and always go the extra mile to support you.


    We have flexible hours, locations, and filing options that cater to every hardworking tax filer.


    We’ve seen it all and will help you through it all. Over 40 years of experience and our guarantees back it up.