Filing as head of household is a better deal than filing as single. You get a more favorable tax rate, for one thing. For example, as of 2013, single filers fall in the 25 percent tax bracket when they earn $36,251; as head of household, you stay at 15 percent until you earn $48,601. You also get a better standard deduction. You have to meet the IRS definition of head of household to qualify.
Head of Household
You have to be unmarried to claim head of household status. Domestic partnerships aren't marriages in the eyes of the IRS, so that's not a problem. You also have to pay more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the year. You must have a dependent living with you for more than half the year, though if you claim your parent as a dependent, she can live somewhere else. Unless you meet all three tests, you don't qualify.
The IRS has several different definitions of dependent, depending on the tax question. Your partner might qualify as a dependent for some purposes, but never for the purpose of qualifying you to claim head of household. Instead, you need a child or grandchild living with you, or other close relatives such as a grandparent or sibling. A qualifying child can't pay for more than half of his own support; for other dependents, you have to pay more than half their support -- even if they're parents who live elsewhere -- or you can't use them to qualify you as head of household.
If you have a child from a former relationship and your ex claims the kid as her tax dependent, you may be able to claim him as a dependent for head-of-household status. This can happen if, say, you're the custodial parent but you gave your ex the right to the dependent exemption. If your partner's child lives with you, you're out of luck, unless you've adopted the child. Biological, step-, foster and adoptive kids can all be qualifying children; but a domestic partner's child doesn't cut it with the IRS.
If you and your partner live in Wisconsin, California or one of the other community property states, it's harder to qualify as head of household status. The IRS applies the same standard as for married couples that file separate returns from those states: you report income and expenses down the middle on your respective 1040. A 50/50 split means you're not paying more than half the household bills. There are ways around this, such as paying some of the bills out of separate, non-community income.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.