Can I Claim Head of Household if I'm Still Legally Married but Not Living Together With My Spouse?

by Herb Kirchhoff

    Filing your taxes as a head of household means your tax rate will be lower than if you filed as single or as married filing separately. You also receive a higher standard deduction than singles or married people filing separately. You may be able to claim unmarried head-of-household filing status despite still being legally married if you fit the Internal Revenue Service’s qualification rules regarding separation, residency and dependency.

    You can be “considered unmarried” and file as an unmarried head of household even if your marriage hasn’t legally been dissolved. To be considered unmarried, you and your spouse must have lived apart for the last 6 months of the tax year. Temporary absences such as for schooling, work or military service don’t meet the separate-living test because the absent person is expected to return to your home. You and your spouse also must file separate tax returns. You can also be considered unmarried if your spouse is a nonresident alien.

    To be a head of household, you must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home. Home upkeep expenses include rent or mortgage payments, real estate taxes, homeowner’s insurance premiums, utilities, maintenance, repairs, and groceries. The cost of home upkeep doesn’t include clothing, education, medical care, life insurance premiums, vacations, transportation or the value of the time you spent on home upkeep.

    To qualify as a household under IRS rules, your residence had to be the main home of your child, stepchild, adopted child, foster child or other qualifying relative for more than half the tax year. As the main home, your residence is the place where the child or qualifying relative regularly sleeps and the place he or she returns to after any temporary absence. If your qualifying relative is a parent, he or she doesn’t have to live with you, but you must have paid more than half the upkeep costs for your parent’s home.

    You must be able to claim a dependent exemption for your child or qualifying relative. In the case of a child, you can still claim head of household status if you have transferred the child’s exemption to your separated noncustodial spouse so that he can claim the child. To transfer the exemption, you make your written declaration to release the exemption to your separated noncustodial spouse on Form 8332. You attach the original to your tax return and provide a copy to your separated spouse. He must attach the copy to his separate tax return when claiming the child’s exemption.

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    About the Author

    Herbert Kirchhoff has over 35 years experience as a newspaper and newsletter reporter, writer and editor, with 27 of those years spent on telecommunications industry policy issues. Kirchhoff has a B.A. in journalism from Rider University in New Jersey and has been published in the "Trenton (N.J.) Times" and in "Communications Daily" and State Telephone Regulation Report, Washington, D.C.

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