Co-parenting? Here’s how child support and shared custody affect your taxes

Two parents share custody of their child

Splitting the responsibilities of raising and caring for a child can prove challenging. But filing your taxes when you are co-parenting does not have to be complicated. Here’s what you need to know about the changes to your tax situation if you are sharing custody with your ex. 

How does child support affect my tax return? 

Child support is considered “tax neutral,” so it does not really affect your tax return. Here’s why: 

Let’s say you were going to buy your child a new backpack. You wouldn’t deduct the cost of a new backpack on your tax return, because that is an example of a personal expense.  Child support is treated in the same way.  The only difference is that, instead of making purchases yourself, you’re giving the money to your ex so they can cover expenses for your child. 

Is child support tax deductible in 2020? 

No. If you are making child support payments, you should not deduct those from your taxable income. They are considered a personal expense for tax purposes, so they are not deductible.  

The same may be true for alimony. If you were married to your ex and your divorce was settled after January 1, 2019, you should not deduct alimony paid to your former spouse.  But, if your divorce was settled prior to Jan. 1, 2019, then your alimony payments can be deducted.  

See how this and other laws changed under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  

Is child support considered income?  

No. If you receive child support from your ex, the payments are not considered income for tax purposes. Your child should not claim child support as income, either. Child support is entirely tax neutral.  

The same goes for alimony. If you are receiving alimony payments from a divorce that was settled after January 1, 2019, do not include those when you are calculating your total income. But, if your divorce was settled on or before December 31, 2018, you should include alimony when calculating your total income. 

Read also Understand Your Taxes: What Changes After Divorce 

Can two parents claim the same child on taxes? 

No, only one parent can claim a dependent on their taxes if you are filing separate returns. If you both try to claim the same child, only the first return filed will be accepted by the IRS.   

In some cases, a child could be a qualifying child of more than one parent. The thing is, when it comes to receiving certain tax benefits, only one of you may claim them as a qualifying child. Those benefits include:  

What should I do if my ex claimed our child on their taxes? 

Let’s say you are filing your taxes online with TaxSlayer and you claim your child as your dependent. If your ex already filed and claimed them first, the IRS will likely reject your return (because you filed second).  

This doesn’t mean you can’t claim your child. What you need to do at this point is mail your return to the IRS. They will apply tiebreaker rules to determine who has the right to claim the dependent. The IRS can’t apply tiebreaker rules to electronically filed returns – which is why you would have to mail yours in. 

Which parent has the right to claim a child on their taxes? 

Typically, the person who has primary custody will claim them on their tax returns. If you and your ex share custody equally, then the parent who has the highest Adjusted Gross Income may claim the dependent.  

Read related blog article: Who can I claim as a dependent? 

Can a non-custodial parent claim child on their taxes? 

The non-custodial parent should only claim the child as their dependent if there is a written and signed declaration from the custodial parent giving them that right. If you are the custodial parent, you can sign an IRS Form 8332, which will allow your ex to claim your child on their tax return.  

They will need to attach the statement or the signed Form 8332 when they file their return. This allows them to claim the dependent exemption and the Child Tax Credit.  Note: even if they have permission to claim the dependent, a non-custodial parent cannot claim the Earned Income Tax Credit for that child

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