The IRS allows you to take deductions for people who qualify as your dependents. There are two groups of people you can claim as dependents: qualifying children and qualifying relatives. Each of these groups has different rules for eligibility as defined by the IRS.
If an unrelated child meets the IRS definition of a "qualifying dependent," you will be able to claim him on your taxes.
Claiming a Child on Taxes That is not Yours
The IRS rules for qualifying children state that the child must have lived with you for more than half the year and must not have earned more than half of his or her own support. The child can be your son or daughter, but other relationships are also allowed such as your stepchild, sibling, half sibling, step sibling or the descendant of any of these relationships. For IRS purposes, an adopted child is treated as your own child. A qualifying child can also be a foster child that was placed with you by a government agency or court order. Additional rules state that a qualifying child must be age 18 or younger, or under age 24 if a student.
The IRS does not allow the same child to be claimed as a dependent on more than one tax return. Taxpayers who don’t follow the rules for qualifying children could be subject to IRS penalties for claiming false dependents. Children who live with you but do not meet the qualifying child rules may still be claimed as a qualifying relative if related to you by blood or marriage.
Exceptions to Qualifying Child Age Restrictions
There are a couple of important exceptions related to the age of a qualifying child. A child who passes the relationship test and is permanently and totally disabled can be claimed as a tax dependent at any age. Persons who meet the qualifying child requirements but are older than the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s spouse when filing jointly cannot be claimed as dependents.
2018 Tax Law
There have been a number of changes to the tax law that will affect tax returns submitted in 2019 for the 2018 tax year, including new tax brackets and rates, but the definition of a qualifying dependent child has not changed. For the 2018 tax year, the standard deduction allowed for a dependent child is either $1,050 or the sum of the child’s earned income plus $350, whichever is greater.
2017 Tax Law
If you are filing late for the 2017 tax year, you are still subject to the same qualifying child rules for claiming dependents. You can claim a $4,050 deduction for each qualifying child, regardless of the child’s income, as long as you paid for at least half of the child’s support.
Catie Watson spent three decades in the corporate world before becoming a freelance writer. She has an English degree from UC Berkeley and specializes in topics related to personal finance, careers and business.