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IRS.gov Website
Publication 596
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298172

Rule 9—Your Qualifying Child Cannot Be Used by More Than One Person To Claim the EIC(p12)

rule
Sometimes a child meets the tests to be a qualifying child of more than one person. However, only one of these persons can actually treat the child as a qualifying child. Only that person can use the child as a qualifying child to take all of the following tax benefits (provided the person is eligible for each benefit).
  1. The exemption for the child.
  2. The child tax credit.
  3. Head of household filing status.
  4. The credit for child and dependent care expenses.
  5. The exclusion for dependent care benefits.
  6. The EIC.
The other person cannot take any of these benefits based on this qualifying child. In other words, you and the other person cannot agree to divide these tax benefits between you. The other person cannot take any of these tax benefits unless he or she has a different qualifying child.
The tiebreaker rules, which follow, explain who, if anyone, can claim the EIC when more than one person has the same qualifying child. However, the tiebreaker rules don't apply if the other person is your spouse and you file a joint return.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298454

Tiebreaker rules. (p12)

rule
To determine which person can treat the child as a qualifying child to claim the six tax benefits just listed, the following tiebreaker rules apply.
Subject to these tiebreaker rules, you and the other person may be able to choose which of you claims the child as a qualifying child. See Examples 1 through 13.
If you cannot claim the EIC because your qualifying child is treated under the tiebreaker rules as the qualifying child of another person for 2016, you may be able to take the EIC using a different qualifying child, but you cannot take the EIC using the rules in chapter 3 for people who don't have a qualifying child.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298465

If the other person cannot claim the EIC. (p13)

rule
If you and someone else have the same qualifying child but the other person cannot claim the EIC because he or she isn't eligible or his or her earned income or AGI is too high, you may be able to treat the child as a qualifying child. See Examples 6 and 7. But you cannot treat the child as a qualifying child to claim the EIC if the other person uses the child to claim any of the other six tax benefits listed earlier in this chapter.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298466

Examples.(p13)

rule
The following examples may help you in determining whether you can claim the EIC when you and someone else have the same qualifying child.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298467

Example 1—Child lived with parent and grandparent. (p13)

You and your 2-year-old son Jimmy lived with your mother all year. You are 25 years old, unmarried, and your AGI is $9,000. Your only income was $9,000 from a part-time job. Your mother's only income was $20,000 from her job, and her AGI is $20,000. Jimmy's father did not live with you or Jimmy. The special rule explained later for divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) doesn't apply. Jimmy is a qualifying child of both you and your mother because he meets the relationship, age, residency, and joint return tests for both you and your mother. However, only one of you can treat him as a qualifying child to claim the EIC (and the other tax benefits listed earlier in this chapter for which that person qualifies). He isn't a qualifying child of anyone else, including his father. If you don't claim Jimmy as a qualifying child for the EIC or any of the other tax benefits listed earlier, your mother can treat him as a qualifying child to claim the EIC (and any of the other tax benefits listed earlier for which she qualifies).
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298468

Example 2—Parent has higher AGI than grandparent. (p13)

The facts are the same as in Example 1 except your AGI is $25,000. Because your mother's AGI isn't higher than yours, she cannot claim Jimmy as a qualifying child. Only you can claim him.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298469

Example 3—Two persons claim same child. (p13)

The facts are the same as in Example 1 except that you and your mother both claim Jimmy as a qualifying child. In this case, you as the child's parent will be the only one allowed to claim Jimmy as a qualifying child for the EIC and the other tax benefits listed earlier for which you qualify. The IRS will disallow your mother's claim to the EIC and any of the other tax benefits listed earlier unless she has another qualifying child.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298470

Example 4—Qualifying children split between two persons. (p13)

The facts are the same as in Example 1 except that you also have two other young children who are qualifying children of both you and your mother. Only one of you can claim each child. However, if your mother's AGI is higher than yours, you can allow your mother to claim one or more of the children. For example, if you claim one child, your mother can claim the other two.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298471

Example 5—Taxpayer who is a qualifying child. (p13)

The facts are the same as in Example 1 except that you are only 18 years old. This means you are a qualifying child of your mother. Because of Rule 10, discussed next, you cannot claim the EIC and cannot claim your son as a qualifying child. Only your mother may be able to treat Jimmy as a qualifying child to claim the EIC. If your mother meets all the other requirements for claiming the EIC and you don't claim Jimmy as a qualifying child for any of the other tax benefits listed earlier, your mother can claim both you and Jimmy as qualifying children for the EIC.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298472

Example 6—Grandparent with too much earned income to claim EIC. (p13)

The facts are the same as in Example 1 except that your mother earned $50,000 from her job. Because your mother's earned income is too high for her to claim the EIC, only you can claim the EIC using your son.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298473

Example 7—Parent with too much earned income to claim EIC. (p13)

The facts are the same as in Example 1 except that you earned $50,000 from your job and your AGI is $50,500. Your earned income is too high for you to claim the EIC. But your mother cannot claim the EIC either, because her AGI isn't higher than yours.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298521

Example 8—Child lived with both parents and grandparent. (p13)

The facts are the same as in Example 1 except that you and Jimmy's father are married to each other, live with Jimmy and your mother, and have AGI of $30,000 on a joint return. If you and your husband don't claim Jimmy as a qualifying child for the EIC or any of the other tax benefits listed earlier, your mother can claim him instead. Even though the AGI on your joint return, $30,000, is more than your mother's AGI of $20,000, for this purpose half of the joint AGI can be treated as yours and half as your husband's. In other words, each parent's AGI can be treated as $15,000.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298523

Example 9—Separated parents. (p13)

You, your husband, and your 10-year-old son Joey lived together until August 1, 2016, when your husband moved out of the household. In August and September, Joey lived with you. For the rest of the year, Joey lived with your husband, who is Joey's father. Joey is a qualifying child of both you and your husband because he lived with each of you for more than half the year and because he met the relationship, age, and joint return tests for both of you. At the end of the year, you and your husband still weren't divorced, legally separated, or separated under a written separation agreement, so the Special rule for divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) doesn't apply.
You and your husband will file separate returns. Your husband agrees to let you treat Joey as a qualifying child. This means, if your husband doesn't claim Joey as a qualifying child for any of the tax benefits listed earlier, you can claim him as a qualifying child for any tax benefit listed earlier for which you qualify. However, your filing status is married filing separately, so you cannot claim the EIC or the credit for child and dependent care expenses. See Rule 3.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298524

Example 10—Separated parents claim same child. (p14)

The facts are the same as in Example 9 except that you and your husband both claim Joey as a qualifying child. In this case, only your husband will be allowed to treat Joey as a qualifying child. This is because, during 2016, the boy lived with him longer than with you. You cannot claim the EIC (either with or without a qualifying child). However, your husband's filing status is married filing separately, so he cannot claim the EIC or the credit for child and dependent care expenses. See Rule 3.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298526

Example 11—Unmarried parents. (p14)

You, your 5-year-old son, and your son's father lived together all year. You and your son's father aren't married. Your son is a qualifying child of both you and his father because he meets the relationship, age, residency, and joint return tests for both you and his father. Your earned income and AGI are $12,000, and your son's father's earned income and AGI are $14,000. Neither of you had any other income. Your son's father agrees to let you treat the child as a qualifying child. This means, if your son's father doesn't claim your son as a qualifying child for the EIC or any of the other tax benefits listed earlier, you can claim him as a qualifying child for the EIC and any of the other tax benefits listed earlier for which you qualify.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298527

Example 12—Unmarried parents claim same child. (p14)

The facts are the same as in Example 11 except that you and your son's father both claim your son as a qualifying child. In this case, only your son's father will be allowed to treat your son as a qualifying child. This is because his AGI, $14,000, is more than your AGI, $12,000. You cannot claim the EIC (either with or without a qualifying child).
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298529

Example 13—Child did not live with a parent. (p14)

You and your 7-year-old niece, your sister's child, lived with your mother all year. You are 25 years old, and your AGI is $9,300. Your only income was from a part-time job. Your mother's AGI is $15,000. Her only income was from her job. Your niece's parents file jointly, have an AGI of less than $9,000, and don't live with you or their child. Your niece is a qualifying child of both you and your mother because she meets the relationship, age, residency, and joint return tests for both you and your mother. However, only your mother can treat her as a qualifying child. This is because your mother's AGI, $15,000, is more than your AGI, $9,300.
taxmap/pubs/p596-009.htm#en_us_publink1000298533

Special rule for divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart). (p14)

rule
A child will be treated as the qualifying child of his or her noncustodial parent (for purposes of claiming an exemption and the child tax credit, but not for the EIC) if all of the following statements are true.
  1. The parents:
    1. Are divorced or legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance,
    2. Are separated under a written separation agreement, or
    3. Lived apart at all time during the last 6 months of 2016, whether or not they are or were married.
  2. The child received over half of his or her support for the year from the parents.
  3. The child is in the custody of one or both parents for more than half of 2016.
  4. Either of the following statements is true.
    1. The custodial parent signs Form 8332 or a substantially similar statement that he or she will not claim the child as a dependent for the year, and the noncustodial parent attaches the form or statement to his or her return. If the divorce decree or separation agreement went into effect after 1984 and before 2009, the noncustodial parent may be able to attach certain pages from the decree or agreement instead of Form 8332.
    2. A pre-1985 decree of divorce or separate maintenance or written separation agreement that applies to 2016 provides that the noncustodial parent can claim the child as a dependent, and the noncustodial parent provides at least $600 for support of the child during 2016.
For details, see Pub. 501. If a child is treated as the qualifying child of the noncustodial parent under this special rule for children of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart), only the noncustodial parent can claim an exemption and the child tax credit for the child. However, only the custodial parent, if eligible, or another eligible taxpayer can claim the child as a qualifying child for the EIC. For details and examples, see Applying the tiebreaker rules to divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) in Pub. 501.