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The income tax system requires that you declare a filing status. Tax rates, deductions, exemptions and credits all take account of this status; however, you must qualify for the status that you claim. Although single and married are fairly self-explanatory, "head of household" status is a bit more obscure. There are several requirements if you want to file as a head of household, and your marital status is one consideration.
Anyone filing as head of household must be unmarried -- or considered unmarried -- on the last day of the tax year. You may have been legally married until Dec. 30, but if your marriage legally ended on Dec. 31, your marital status for the entire year, at least for tax purposes, is considered to be unmarried. If you are still legally married on that final day, however, you may still file as a head of household under certain conditions.
You may file as head of household if you are "considered unmarried" according to the IRS. You and your spouse must not file a joint return, and you must pay more than half of your household expenses. Your spouse may not have lived in your home during the last six months of the year, and the household must include a qualifying person or child -- in other words, you must have a dependent. You also must be able to claim an exemption for that person.
A head of household must be able to claim a qualifying dependent -- in most cases, a child or relative. If the dependent you're claiming is a child, that child must have lived in the household for more than half the year. The child must be 18 or younger on the last day of the year, or 24 and under and attending school full-time. Disabled children may also be claimed regardless of age. In addition, although the IRS rules are complex, the dependent child must typically be single and not provide more than half of his own support.
Certain people -- typically your close relatives -- do not have to live with you all year to be your qualified dependents. These include children, stepchildren, adopted children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandparents, nieces, nephews, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, mothers-in-law or fathers-in-law. Others -- such as a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend, for example -- must live with you full-time in order to qualify as your dependents. Dependents who are not considered "qualifying children" -- whom the IRS calls "qualifying relatives" whether or not they are actually your relatives -- must draw more than half of their support from you, and have gross income of less than $3,800 for the year.
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