I keep hearing this crazy notion of one spouse claiming the other spouse as a dependent. What’s most disturbing is that I’m hearing tax preparers state this absurdity, sending their clients on wild goose chases to gather sufficient documentation as proof that their spouse has no gross income so they can claim the spouse as a “dependent“.
In a recent online forum, a tax preparer whom we’ll call TAXLADY responded to a conversation thread on this topic, and she said the following:
“Y’all need to check Publication 17. It IS possible to take a spouse as a dependent. However, ONLY if the spouse has ZERO income and the return is Married Filing Separately.”
Now, the important word here is “dependent“.
Let me show you the error, misconception, confusion, problem, or whatever you want to call it with this discussion.
The line in Publication 17 TAXLADY is referring to says: “You can claim an EXEMPTION for your spouse only if your spouse had no gross income, is not filing a return, and was not the dependent of another person” (see the section titled Married Filing Separately, Pub 17).
The key word here is EXEMPTION. Yes you can still claim the personal exemption for your spouse; but this is not the same as the “dependency exemption”.
If you check out IRS Publication 501 (under the section called EXEMPTIONS) you will see THIS explanation for two types of exemptions:
Types of exemptions. There are two types of exemptions you may be able to take:
- Personal exemptions for yourself and your spouse, and
- Exemptions for dependents (dependency exemptions).
IRS Publication 501 goes on to further explain the following, in which it explicitly states: “Your spouse is NEVER considered your dependent.”
You are generally allowed one exemption for yourself. If you are married, you may be allowed one exemption for your spouse. These are called personal exemptions.
Your Own Exemption
You can take one exemption for yourself unless you can be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer. If another taxpayer is entitled to claim you as a dependent, you cannot take an exemption for yourself even if the other taxpayer does not actually claim you as a dependent.
Your Spouse’s Exemption
Your spouse is never considered your dependent.
You can either use the direct links I’ve provided throughout this article (IRS Pub 17 and IRS Pub 501) OR you can:
1. Go to http://www.irs.gov
2. Click on Forms & Pubs
3. Click on Current Forms & Pubs
4. Scroll down to Pub 17 (or Pub 501 which is on page 2 of the list)
5. Once you open Pub 17 go to page 22. Once you open Pub 501 go to page 9 – 10
It does not matter what any tax preparer tells you, the IRS will hold to the laws as stated in it’s own publications.
You can NEVER claim your spouse as a dependent. You can read a few of my other blogs on DEPENDENTS by clicking here.