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George Saenz, the Bankrate.com Tax Talk columnistEx-spouse a dependent on my tax return?

Dear Tax Talk,
My ex-husband came to live with me in 2003 in my home that we share with our child. I provide all the support as he is not working, but he takes care of the house and things. He gets about $1,000 a month in Social Security, which he usually uses to buy food for the house and his clothes. I spend more than 10 times this maintaining the house, meals and transport. Can I claim him as a dependent on my taxes?
-- Ana

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Dear Ana,
Beginning in 2005, the term "dependent" means either a qualifying child or a qualifying relative.

Since your ex-husband would not be your qualifying child, no matter how he behaves, he would have to be a qualifying relative. There are four tests that must be met for a person to be your qualifying relative. The four tests are:

  1. Not a qualifying child test.
  2. Member of household or relationship test.
  3. Gross income test.
  4. Support test.

Well, again he is not a qualifying child and, although he is not a relative since you're divorced, he could still count as a dependent if he was member of your household for an entire year. That means that he had to be a household member from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. However, my favorite caveat for a nonrelative in the qualifying relative test is that a person does not meet this test if at any time during the year the relationship between you and that person violates local law. Check with your town mayor on this.

The most important is the gross income test. To meet this test, a person's gross income for the year must be less than $3,200. Gross income is all income in the form of money, property and services that is not exempt from tax. Tax-exempt income, such as certain Social Security benefits, is not included in gross income. Hence, the ex's Social Security benefits do not eliminate him as a dependent.

Lastly is the support test. To meet this test, you generally must provide more than half of a person's total support during the calendar year. To figure if you provided more than half of a person's support, you must first determine the total support provided for that person. Total support includes amounts spent to provide food, lodging, clothing, education, medical and dental care, recreation, transportation, and similar necessities.

Generally, the amount of an item of support is the amount of the expense incurred in providing that item. For lodging, the amount of support is the fair rental value of the lodging. For example, if you spend $120,000 a year for the three of you, which somewhat benefits each of the three equally, you've spent approximately $40,000 for the ex's support. Since he only has $12,000 to contribute, you've provided more than half of the support. Hence, as long as the town doesn't have a problem with your relationship, he is your dependent.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: Feb. 8, 2006
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