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.
If a married woman lived separate from her husband for at least half the year and meets certain other requirements, she can file head of household on her federal taxes.
A Married Woman Can be IRS Head of Household if Permanently Separated
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.
You Cannot be Head of Household if Considered Legally Married for the Tax Year
If you're considered legally married for the tax year, you cannot file as head of household. 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.
Penalty for Filing Head of Household While Married
Filing as head of household means you have a lot of requirements to meet, and so such filings are ripe for error. Head of household rules are strict. If you incorrectly choose head of household as your filing status, there is not any particular penalty, but you will have to file an amended return to correct the issue.
2018 Tax Year: Qualifying Person Requirement
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.
If you do have a qualifying child, for the 2018 tax year, the Child Tax Credit is doubled to $2,000 per child, although it will be available to a greater number of households thanks to a change in the income thresholds. For head of household filers, you can receive the full Child Tax Credit of $2,000 per child up to $200,000 of Adjusted Gross Income, with reductions in the credit of $50 for every $1,000 of AGI up to $240,000 of income, where the credit is completely phased out.
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.
2017 Tax Year: Qualifying Person Requirement
The qualifying person requirements for the 2017 tax year (which are the taxes being filed in 2018) is the same as for 2018, except that the Child Tax Credit is only $1,000 per qualifying child, and the credit will be reduced for head of household filers beginning at only $75,000 of AGI with a decrease of $50 per $1,000 of AGI.
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.