Uniform Definition of a Child
The IRS has a uniform definition of a child that is used for filing status determination, the Child Tax Credit, Additional Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and the credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses. The uniform definition of a child is:
Child - A natural child, stepchild, adopted child, or eligible foster child
- Adopted child - A child legally adopted, or a child lawfully placed by an authorized placement agency for legal adoption; this child is treated as a child by blood
- Eligible foster child - A child placed by an authorized agency or by a judgment, decree, or other order of any court of competent jurisdiction
- Following are the tests a child must meet to be considered your qualifying child for certain tax benefits:
- Relationship Test - Your qualifying child must be your:
- Child (per the uniform definition of a child) or descendant (for example, grandchild or great grandchild)
- Sibling, half sibling, stepsibling, or descendant (for example, nephew or niece)
- Age Test - Your qualifying child must be younger than you and
- under age 19, or
- a full-time student under age 24, or
- any age if permanently and totally disabled*
*Note: If your child is permanently and totally disabled, they do not have to be younger than you.
- Residency Test - Your qualifying child must have the same main home as you for more than half the year.
- Support Test - Your qualifying child must not provide more than half of their own support.
- Citizenship Test - Your qualifying child must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. resident, a U.S. national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico.
- Joint Return Test - Your qualifying child must not file a joint return unless there would be zero tax liability on both married filing separate returns (the return for your child and the return for your child's spouse), and the joint return is filed only to receive a refund only.
- If a child is the qualifying child for you and another person, you will need to decide who will claim the tax benefits using that child. If both of you claim tax benefits using the same child, the IRS will apply the following tie-breaker rules to determine who can claim tax benefits using that child:
- If only one of you is the child's parent, the parent can claim the benefits. If you are not the child's parent and the child is a qualifying child for both you and the parents, you may claim the child (as a qualifying relative not eligible for the tax credits related to a child) only if:
- Neither parent will be claiming the child and are not required to file a tax return
- Your adjusted gross income is higher than the adjusted gross income of both parents
*Note: If the parents are not living together, this test is applied to the parent the child lives with only.
- If both of you are the child's parents and you do not file a joint return together:
- The parent with whom the child lived the longest period of time during the year can claim the benefits.
- If the child lived with both parents the same amount of time, the parent with the highest adjusted gross income can claim the benefits.
The special rule for divorced or separated parents is the only condition under which tax benefits for one qualifying child may be split between two taxpayers. Under this provision, if the custodial parent allows the noncustodial parent to claim the dependent exemption, the noncustodial parent can also claim the Child Tax Credit if they otherwise qualify. The custodial parent can use the Head of Household filing status and claim EIC and the Dependent and Child Care Credit if they meet the additional rules for each of these benefits.
Five tax benefits affecting children are impacted by this definition:
- Dependent exemption - A child is your qualifying child for the dependent exemption if they meet all of the tests listed above.
- Head of Household filing status - Generally, a child is your qualifying child for the Head of Household if they meet all the tests listed above. Also, you must:
- Be single or considered unmarried
- Pay more than half the cost of keeping up the main home where you live with your qualifying child
- Credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses - A child is your qualifying child for the credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses if they meet all the tests listed above except that for the Age Test. For this credit, the child must be under age 13; but may be any age if physically or mentally unable to care for themselves. Your spouse who was physically or mentally not able to care for themselves may also qualify you for this credit.
- Child Tax Credit - A child is your qualifying child for the Child Tax Credit if they meet all the tests listed above except that for the Age Test - the child must be under age 17. Additionally, the child must be claimed as your dependent. If you are divorced or separated, different rules may apply.
- Earned Income Credit - A child is your qualifying child for the Earned Income Credit if they meet all the Relationship, Age, and Residency Tests listed above. The Support Test does not apply. In addition, the child must be younger than you unless disabled and have lived with you in the U.S. for more than half the year. A qualifying child who is married must be your dependent or the dependent of their other parent.
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