Can I Get a Deduction for Unrelated Children?

Each dependent child you can claim represents a $3,800 deduction from income on your taxes. The Internal Revenue Service rules for claiming a child as a tax deduction are relatively straightforward if the child is related to you by blood, marriage, adoption or fostering. But the rules become tricky if you want to claim a child that is not related to you, such as the child of your girlfriend or boyfriend.

Qualifying Child

It’s possible to claim an unrelated child as your “qualifying relative,” as defined by IRS rules. But if the child you want to claim as your qualifying relative is the “qualifying child” of a parent, you can’t claim the child. In addition to being related to the parent, a qualifying child must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident. The child must be under age 19, under age 24 if a student or any age if totally disabled. The qualifying child must have lived with the parent for at least half the year, cannot have provided more than half his support and can’t have filed a joint tax return except to get a refund of taxes withheld despite zero joint tax liability.

Tricky Rule

If the parent did not file a tax return because his or her income was too low to tax, you may be able to claim the unrelated child as your qualifying relative. You may do so if the parent had no tax liability and filed a tax return only to obtain a refund of withheld taxes. Things get tricky if the parent did have enough income to require filing a tax return or filed to claim tax breaks such as the refundable earned income credit. In that case, you can’t claim the child as your qualifying relative because the IRS considers the child to be the qualifying child of the parent even if the parent didn’t actually claim the qualifying-child exemption on his or her tax return.

Other Tests

If the unrelated child passed the “not a qualifying child” test, there are still three other tests you must meet before you can claim the child. The child must have lived with you all year as a member of your household, you must have provided more than half the child’s support, and the child as of 2012 must have less than $3,800 of taxable income for the year. If the child’s parent met the four tests, you could claim a qualifying-relative exemption for him or her as well as for the child.

No Child Credits

If you are able to claim the unrelated child as your qualifying relative, you will get the $3,800 dependent exemption for the child, but you don’t get the tax breaks associated with having a qualifying child. You cannot claim the child tax credit or child care credit for a child who is your qualifying relative. You also can’t claim head of household status or the earned income credit based on a child who is your qualifying relative.

Photo Credits

About the Author

Herb Kirchhoff has more than three decades of hands-on experience as an avid garden hobbyist and home handyman. Since retiring from the news business in 2008, Kirchhoff takes care of a 12-acre rural Michigan lakefront property and applies his experience to his vegetable and flower gardens and home repair and renovation projects.

Zacks Investment Research

is an A+ Rated BBB

Accredited Business.