Can a Married Woman Be Head of Household With the IRS?

by Alan Sembera

    The head of household filing status was designed to give single parents who support a family some of the same advantages that married taxpayers receive. If you are legally married, you normally cannot claim head of household status, even if you file a separate tax return and meet all the other requirements. However, the Internal Revenue Service offers exceptions in certain cases when you and your spouse have gone your separate ways.

    Legally Married

    For tax purposes you are considered legally married for the entire year unless you and your spouse have gotten a final divorce or legal separation by the last day of the year. You must either file a joint tax return with your spouse or file your own return under the status of married filing separately. If you file a separate return, you cannot claim certain benefits such as the earned income credit or the American Opportunity education credit, and you cannot take the standard deduction if your spouse itemizes on his return.

    Considered Unmarried

    You may be able to claim head of household status if you and your spouse are permanently separated and you lived apart for the last six months of the year. This means that from July 1 through Dec. 31, you and your spouse must have lived under different roofs. The IRS rules are pretty strict on this point -- if you spent even one night with your spouse during this period, you cannot claim the head-of-household status. You also can't claim head-of-household status if your spouse is gone only temporarily due to illness, school, work, vacation or military service, and is reasonably expected to return.

    Qualifying Child

    In addition to living apart from your spouse, to be head of household you must pay most of the costs of keeping up a home for the year, and the home must be the main home of a qualifying child or qualifying relative who lived with you for most of the year. Generally a qualifying child can be your son, daughter, grandchild, brother, sister, niece or nephew who is either under 18, or is under 24 and going to college full time. You must be able to claim an exemption for the child, unless you have agreed to let your spouse claim the exemption under a written agreement. If a child is temporarily absent for medical reasons or is away for school, he is still considered to be living with you.

    Qualifying Relative

    A qualifying relative does not have to meet the age requirements, but you have to be able to claim her as a dependent and she has to live with you most of the year. You can even count your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and in-laws as qualifying relatives. In the case of your parents where you pay most of the costs of keeping up their home, including a nursing home, you can still claim head-of-household status even if they don't live with you.

    Photo Credits

    • Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Alan Sembera began writing for local newspapers in Texas and Louisiana. His professional career includes stints as a computer tech, information editor and income tax preparer. Sembera now writes full time about business and technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Texas A&M University.

    Zacks Investment Research

    is an A+ Rated BBB

    Accredited Business.