Who Gets to Claim the Kids for Taxes?
The issue comes up often. Who gets to claim the kids for tax purposes? It’s an important question because the answer equals big money. There are many tax benefits with respect to claiming a qualified child as a dependent. For the calendar year of 2015, claiming one’s child as a dependent reduces one’s taxable income by approximately $4,000. Another possible tax benefit is the Child Tax Credit, which is worth up to $1,000 for each child under the age of 17; bear in mind there aree certain eligibility requirements that are based on the parent’s adjusted gross income. The final tax benefit includes the ability to claim a credit up to approximately $2,100 for qualified child care costs. When you file separately you face a potential problem because only one parent can ultimately claim the child. Because of this, single parents, and married parents that are going through a divorce and choose to file separately, often fight over who can claim the kids as a tax deduction.
According to the Feds, the parent with the most custodial time gets the tax relief. IRS Publication 501 covers exemptions, standard deductions and filing information explains that an individual may claim a child as a dependent on his or her tax return if the child resides with that individual “for more than half of the year. . . .”
Despite this, in New Mexico our courts allow single parents to alternate the years that each parent can claim the child as a dependent; provided that the parents have joint legal custody and child support is up-to-date. This reading of the IRS regulations was highlighted in a New Mexico Court of Appeals case, Macias v. Macias, 126 N.M. 303. In Macias, the trial court awarded Mother primary custody of the parties’ three children, and ordered the Father to pay child support. The court also allowed Father to claim two of the three children for tax deduction purposes, despite the fact that Mother had primary physical custody of the children. Mother appealed the trial court’s ruling, arguing that “. . . federal law controls and that the court had no choice but to allow Wife, as the custodial parent of all three children, to receive the exemptions for each child regardless of support payments."
The New Mexico Court of Appeals ultimately upheld the trial court’s ruling, reasoning that the federal law does not prevent a state court from alternating or distributing the right for parents to claim children as dependents for tax purposes. In practical terms that means that New Mexico courts are not bound by the IRS and have the legal ability to reach a decision based on what it believes is fair, equitable and of course what’s in the best interests of the children. This is important to know before you walk into Court. This is general legal information. If you have further questions regarding taxes, please consult a tax professional.