Someone Else Claimed My Dependent

Did the IRS reject your tax return because someone else claimed your dependent?

Claiming a dependent is usually pretty simple: you give the IRS their social security number, certifying that your relationship with that person satisfies a few simple rules.

Things can get more complicated, especially if someone else also claims the same person as a dependent. If they file their return first, the IRS will assume it’s legitimate and award them the full tax benefit of the dependent. When you attempt to e-file your return, it will be rejected.

What can you do then?

The process is fairly straightforward. After your e-filed return has been rejected because someone else claimed the same dependent, you need to file a paper return. You can still prepare your return online. Instead of e-filing, you will need to print it out, sign it, and mail it to the IRS.

With your return, include a cover letter explaining your situation to the IRS as well as evidence proving that you have the right to claim the dependent (ie: medical records, school records, etc.).

The IRS will then review both returns claiming that dependent and determine which person should be claiming the dependent based on tax law.

The first thing to do is to make sure that you actually can claim the person in question as a dependent. There are two types of dependents, qualifying children and qualifying relatives, and both have different requirements.

Criteria for claiming a qualifying child

In order to claim someone as a qualifying child, he or she must

  • Be your biological or adopted child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, half sibling, step-sibling, or a descendant of one of these
  • Be under age 19, under age 24 if a full-time student, or any age if permanently and totally disabled
  • Remain a U.S. citizen or resident, or a resident of Canada or Mexico
  • Not be married, or be married but not filing a joint return
  • Have lived with you for at least half the year.
  • Not have provided more than half of his or her own support

Criteria for claiming a qualifying relative

In order to claim someone as a qualifying relative, he or she must

  • Have lived with you all year as a member of your household, or be one of the following family members: child, parent, sibling, stepparent, stepchild, step-sibling, half sibling, grandparent, grandchild, child-in-law, parent-in-law, sibling-in-law, uncle, aunt, niece, or nephew. 
  • Remain a U.S. citizen or resident, or a resident of Canada or Mexico
  • Not be married, or be married but not filing a joint return
  • Not be a qualifying child of you or someone else
  • Have a gross income of less than $4,000
  • Have more than half of their total support for the year provided by you

When you sent your cover letter and evidence along with your return, you should strive to prove that you satisfy all of the requirements for the type of dependent that you are trying to claim.

Can I find out who claimed my dependent?

The IRS can’t tell you who else has claimed the dependent for several reasons. One is that since they don’t know who made the right claim, they don’t want to violate the privacy of someone who really is claiming their own child. Another is that there’s always the potential for mistakes, and it doesn’t make much sense to punish someone for accidentally writing a “4” that looks like a “9” when copying a Social Security number.

What if two people both meet the requirements to claim a dependent?

If two different people both have the right to claim the dependent according to the criteria listed above, the IRS will generally award the dependent to the person with whom the dependent lived for the greatest amount of time during the tax year. If the dependent lived with both people for an equal amount of time, then the IRS will award the dependent to the taxpayer with the higher AGI.

Why dependents require a Social Security number

For a while, dependents didn’t require a Social Security number at all. The IRS used to take taxpayers’ word for it when they claimed dependents. But in 1987, the rule changed to require taxpayers to give a Social Security number for every dependent they claimed. And suddenly, seven million dependents disappeared. Many of them were probably due to misunderstandings: two divorced parents each claiming all of their kids, for example. But others could have been due to shady behavior, including claiming children while knowing someone else would claim them, or even fabricating dependents entirely.

Prevent this in the future

The problem can be solved by mailing in a paper return. But how do you prevent this from happening in future years? The IRS is working to improve its safeguards against tax fraud and identity theft, but these aren’t perfect. The best thing you can do to prevent someone else from claiming your dependent is to file your taxes as early as possible. That way your e-filed return will be accepted and theirs will be rejected. You’ll get your refund on time and they will be required to prove they meet the dependent criteria.

Some food for thought

In situations like the ones discussed above, there tends to be emotion involved from both parties. The IRS is required to base all final decisions solely on tax law. When dealing with the IRS, it is most productive to stick to the facts.  This will save you time and stress.



746 Replies to “Someone Else Claimed My Dependent”

  1. What is the next step to take if I efiled my returns already and someone else claimed my children? He pays child support but the children have lived with me the full 12 months out of the year and I support them financially. The IRS has contacted me via email what do I do now?

    1. Dear Distraught,

      The best thing to do is get in contact with the IRS, either by emailing them back or calling at 1-800-829-1040. Explain your situation and get their advice. You can also paper file your return and claim your child as a dependent anyway, this should prompt an IRS audit which will give you the opportunity to prove the child is your dependent.

  2. who can i report my brother from claiming myself, he has done for years, when he has not ever suported me at anytime at all?

    1. Hi Jeffery,

      The best thing to do is just to paper file as an independent person. You can include a cover letter explaining your situation to the IRS. If your brother claims you, and you do not file as his dependent, this should prompt an audit, which will force him to offer proof of his support for you. Hopefully this resolves the situation.

  3. The father of my son is trying to claim him. He’s not listed anywhere on the birth certificate no proof that he’s even the father and I’ve never lived with him always by myself and he’s never lived with me. Is the anyway that he can claim my son and what do I do if he does?

    1. Hi Alice,

      It sounds like the father of your son doesn’t live with your son or help support him. If this is the case he shouldn’t be able to claim him. In order to claim a child, he or she must live with you for at least half the year and you must provide at least half of their support. If the father does claim him, go ahead and claim him as well. This should prompt an IRS audit and will give you an opportunity to sort the situation out with the IRS.

      1. My ex wife has legally full custody of kids as of august i left the house up in to point i paid all the bills even after i left and still take care of my kids all bills are in her name have anther home that we rent in my name her motherinlaw and her went and claimed my kids behind my back and now say i never lived there or paid any bills even though she secretly drops kids off to me 5 times a week. I dont know if i can even prove i ever lived there just the bills i paid im sure he does take care of your kid how would he get the ss number my wife says the same about me the only one who truly knows the truthe are my children all because of money hungry woman, where men have to pay them off to see there own kids

      2. Hi Whitney,
        The father can file an amended return to correct the mistake made and take your son off of his listed dependents or your mother can send proof to the IRS to show she has right to claim your son as a dependent.

  4. Is there a way to have someone contact me about this? My boyfriend has a mediated parenting plan and it was stated that hiim and his ex alternate who claims the child every year. This previous year (filing in 2011) she was asked if she claimed the child, she said “just for the child income credit” is there any way to still have this audited? We tried getting ahold of our attorney for information, but he does not even contact us back anymore.

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