Your non-working spouse is not a tax deduction. Even if he stays home to care for the children, there's no write-off or tax credit for being the primary caregiver. Being a single-paycheck family can still be a good deal at tax time. If you can file a joint return, for instance, you usually pay less in taxes than if you had the same income as a single filer.
A joint return gets twice the standard deduction as a single filer's return. As of 2013, a married couple can deduct $12,200. You get that deduction even if your spouse works, but with only one income it will lower your taxes more than if she brought in a paycheck too. You also claim two personal exemptions on your return instead of one. Each exemption, as of 2013, is worth $3,900 for a total $7,800.
The most you can contribute to a standard IRA, as of 2013, is $5,500, plus another $1,000 if you're 50 or older. Normally someone who doesn't work can't contribute to an IRA at all, but non-working spouses are an exception. You can put up to $5,500 in your spouse's IRA on top of what you contribute to your own. Everything you contribute to his IRA is tax-deductible, the same as your own IRA.
If you itemize deductions on Schedule A, you don't get the benefit of the double standard deduction. You can, however, claim a write-off for any deductible expenses your spouse had during the year. For example, as of 2013 you can only write off medical bills greater than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. With one income, the total AGI is lower than if you both worked. If your family had a bad health year, it will be easier to take the write-off.
If your spouse is in school, you may be able to claim the various tax credits and deductions available for students. With the lifetime learning credit, for instance, your spouse's college expenses can cut your taxes by up to $2,000 each year she's in school. You can write off $4,000 for her tuition even if you don't itemize, though you can't take the deduction and the credit both. If she's already been to college, you may be able to write off interest on her student loans.
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.