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When can you claim head of household tax status after divorce?

If you are a parent who separated or divorced in 2016, it's essential to ensure that you accurately reflect the changes in your life when you file your taxes. One important change that you'll likely need to make is your filing status.

There's a lot of confusion around the filing status called "head of household." This status can give a taxpayer a higher standard deduction, lower tax rate and larger refund. Therefore, it's advantageous to use it -- if you can legitimately claim it.

To file under head of household status, the taxpayer must:

-- Have paid more than half the cost of keeping the home maintained for the tax year.

-- Have been the only spouse living in the home for the final half of the year.

-- Be the child's custodial parent. This involves having a "qualifying child" living for more than half the year in the home.

-- Not file a joint return with the other spouse.

If a couple has more than one child, they can both claim head of household status if one or more of the kids lived with them for over half the year after the couple separated.

It's important to understand that filing status is not necessarily tied to who can claim a dependent exemption or child tax credit. Even non-custodial parents may be able to claim those if done correctly.

Some of these tax issues, as well as those such as child support and alimony, are often best addressed during the divorce proceedings to help ensure that both spouses are on the same page, and not using contradictory information on their tax returns. '

If couples can work together amicably, they can each do their taxes in a way that's maximally beneficial for both of them and avoids issues with the Internal Revenue Service.

Source: WomansDivorce.com, "Head of Household Tax Filing Status after Divorce or Separation," Tracy Achen, accessed Jan. 11, 2017

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