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RI Divorce & Taxes: A Child's Tax Return

During a divorce and Child Custody determination, the issue of who claims the child or children for income tax purposes may be a topic of discussions. As long as the divorce is final by December 31, one parent can claim the child. Usually the parent claiming the child may file as Head of Household, which can lower taxes. The Rhode Island Child Support Guidelines presume that the parent with primary possession can claim the child for tax purposes. The parties can negotiate who claims the child, or to even alternate years claiming the child as a dependent.  Negotiating for this benefit is important.

However, there is another issue that must be reviewed. If the dependent child has income, either earned income from a job, or unearned income (dividends and interest), the child may be required to file an income tax return. Generally, a child is responsible to file his/her own income tax return; if the child is too young to do so, the child's parent or guardian must file it for the child.

Special rules apply and are spelled out in IRS Publication 929, including that when the parties are divorced, legally separated or never married and living apart, "the parent who had custody of the child for a greater part of the year" should claim the child. Of course, this can be amended by the parties completed the appropriate form with the IRS.

If the child had income, a choice exists whether to claim it on the parent's income tax return or have the child file his/her own return. You may wish to have a tax specialist help you with that decision.

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