implications of child custody choices
I am a recently divorced (June 2004) mom of
a 5-year-old son. My ex-husband and I have joint legal and physical
custody of our son (his time with us is split 50/50), and we have
agreed to take turns claiming him as a dependent on our tax returns
every other year.
I am currently enrolled in a flexible spending
account for his child care and have a couple of questions. Do I
need to be able to claim my son as a dependent on my taxes in order
to participate in the flex plan? Can either my ex or I (or both?)
claim head-of-household status on our upcoming returns? Is this
status tied to claiming a dependent? I also receive child support,
which I understand is not claimed anywhere on my tax return. Thank
you for any help you can provide. I appreciate your assistance in
helping me plan for the upcoming tax season! -- Karen
In taxes, we have to have a custodial parent, even in a shared-custody
divorce. You are the custodial parent if, during the year, you have
custody of your child longer than your child's other parent has
Alternatively, you could be considered the custodial
parent if the divorce decree identifies your home as the child's
legal residence. Since custody rules differ from state to state,
you need to get your attorney to assist you in deciding which parent
would be considered the custodial parent for federal tax purposes.
In order to participate in the flexible
spending account, you have to have a qualifying person. Generally,
a qualifying person is your dependent who was under age 13 when
the care was provided and for whom you can claim an exemption.
If you are divorced or separated, to be a qualifying
person your child usually must be your dependent for whom you can
claim an exemption. But there is an exception to this that applies
if all of the following are true:
1. You are divorced.
2. One or both parents had custody of the child for more than
half of the year.
3. One or both parents provided more than half of the child's
support for the year.
4. The child was under age 13 or was physically or mentally not
able to care for himself or herself
5. The custodial parent signed Form 8332, Release of Claim to
Exemption for Child of Divorced or Separated Parents, or a similar
statement, agreeing not to claim the child's exemption for the
If the exception applies and you are the custodial
parent, you can treat your child as a qualifying person even if
you cannot claim the child's exemption. If you are the noncustodial
parent, you cannot treat your child as a qualifying person even
if you can claim the child's exemption. For example, if you are
the custodial parent in a year that your husband claims the child's
exemption, you can still participate in the spending account.
The rule for head of household is somewhat similar.
In order to be able to claim head of household status, the child
has to live with you for more than half the year. You do not have
to claim the child as a dependent in order to file as head of household.
For example, if the child lived with the father for
more than half the year in a year you claim the exemption, you would
be considered single with one dependent and the father would be
head of household with no dependents. A person, in this case your
child, cannot be used to qualify more than one taxpayer to use the
head-of-household filing status for the year.