Rules for claiming a dependent child

Final regs on dependent child of divorced or separated parents or parents who live apart T.D. 9408, 07/01/2008; Reg. § 1.152-4

Mike Habib, EA

IRS has issued final regs on the rules for claiming a child as a dependent by parents who are divorced, legally separated under a decree of separate maintenance or a written separation agreement, or who live apart at all times during the last 6 months of the calendar year. They are effective for tax years beginning after July 2, 2008, and reflect amendments under the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 (WFTRA) and the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005 (GOZA).

Background. A taxpayer may deduct an exemption amount for a dependent, defined generally as a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. Code Sec. 152(e), as amended by § 404 of GOZA, carries rules for parents who (1) are divorced or legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance, (2) are separated under a written separation agreement, or (3) live apart at all times during the last 6 months of the calendar year. A child of parents described in (1), (2), or (3), is treated as the qualifying child or qualifying relative of the noncustodial parent if the child receives over one-half of his support during the calendar year from the child’s parents, the child is in the custody of one or both of the child’s parents for more than half of the calendar year, and:

    • the custodial parent signs a written declaration that the custodial parent will not claim a child as a dependent for a tax year and the noncustodial parent attaches the declaration to the noncustodial parent’s tax return (Code Sec. 152(e)(2); or
    • a qualified pre-’85 instrument allocates the dependency exemption to the noncustodial parent and the noncustodial parent provides at least $600 for the support of the child during the calendar year. (Code Sec. 152(e)(3))

    A custodial parent is the parent having custody for the greater portion of the calendar year and the noncustodial parent is the parent who is not the custodial parent. (Code Sec. 152(e)(4)) If a child is treated as the qualifying child or qualifying relative of the noncustodial parent under Code Sec. 152(e), then that parent may claim the child for purposes of the dependency deduction under Code Sec. 151 and the child tax credit under Code Sec. 24, if the other requirements of those provisions are met.

    In May of 2007, IRS issued proposed regs on the rules for a dependent child of divorced or separated parents or parents who live apart. IRS has now adopted the proposed regs as final regs, with some modifications.

    Final regs. The final regs update the prior final regs, deleting obsolete provisions, revising language to improve clarity, and incorporating provisions in Reg. § 1.152-4T, which is removed. They also provide guidance on issues that have arisen in the administration of Code Sec. 152(e).

    Custodial parent. Like the proposed regs, the final regs define the custodial parent as the parent with whom the child resides for the greater number of nights during the calendar year (the counting nights rule). In response to commentators’ concern that this rule doesn’t address how the child’s residence for a night is determined (e.g., by the child’s physical location at a given time such as midnight, or by where the child sleeps) and for which year the night of Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 is counted, the final regs clarify that, for purposes of Code Sec. 152(e), a child resides for a night with a parent if the child sleeps (1) at the parent’s residence (whether or not the parent is present); or (2) in the company of the parent when the child does not sleep at a parent’s residence (for example, if the parent and child are on vacation). The time that a child goes to sleep is irrelevant. A night that extends over two tax years is allocated to the tax year when the night begins: for example, the night that begins on Dec. 31, 2008, is counted for tax year 2008. (Reg. § 1.152-4(d))

    To remedy any ambiguity caused by the proposed regs’ failure to define custody, the final regs provide that a child is in the custody of one or both parents for more than one-half of the calendar year if one or both parents have the right under state law to physical custody of the child for more than one-half of the calendar year. But, a child isn’t in the custody of either parent for purposes of Code Sec. 152(e) when the child reaches the age of majority under state law. (Reg. § 1.152-4(c))

    Release of the right to claim a child. Under Code Sec. 152(e)(2), a custodial parent may release a claim to an exemption for a child by signing a written declaration that he will not claim the child as a dependent. The final regs retain the rule in the proposed regs that a written declaration not on Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, (or successor form) must conform to the substance of Form 8332. The final regs further provide that a release not on a Form 8332 must be a document executed for the sole purpose of releasing the claim. A court order or decree or a separation agreement cannot serve as the written declaration. If a release of a claim to a child is for more than one year, the noncustodial parent must attach a copy of the written declaration (rather than the original, as required in the proposed regs) to the parent’s return for the first tax year for which the release is effective. Copies must also be attached to returns for later years. (Reg. § 1.152-4(e))

    Revocation of release of claim. Under both the final and proposed regs, a custodial parent who released the right to claim a child could revoke the release for future tax years by providing written notice of the revocation to the other parent. The final regs require that the parent revoking the release notify, or make reasonable attempts to notify, in writing, the other parent of the revocation. What is a reasonable attempt is determined under the facts and circumstances, but mailing a copy of the written revocation to the noncustodial parent at the last known address or at an address reasonably calculated to ensure receipt satisfies this requirement. A revocation can be made on Form 8332, or successor form designated by IRS. A revocation not on the designated form must conform to the substance of the form and be in a document executed for the sole purpose of revoking a release. A taxpayer revoking a release may attach a copy rather than an original to the taxpayer’s return for the first tax year the revocation is effective, as well as for later years. (T.D. 9408, 07/01/2008, Reg. § 1.152-4(e)(3))

    The final regs also clarify that a multiple year written declaration executed in a tax year beginning on or before July 2, 2008, that satisfies the requirements for the form of a written declaration in effect at the time the written declaration was executed is treated as satisfying the requirements for the form of a release under the final regs. However, the rules for revoking a release of a claim to an exemption apply without regard to whether a custodial parent executed the release in a tax year beginning on or before July 2, 2008; such a release executed may be revoked. (Reg. § 1.152-4(e)(5))