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Below you will find information to help you determine if you are eligible to file your tax return with the filing status of Head of Household. If necessary, review IRS Publication 17 Your Federal Income Tax (For Individuals) for additional details before making a final determination. You may also wish to utilize the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) What is my filing status? topic.

If you qualify to file as head of household, your tax rate usually will be lower than the rates for single or married filing separately. You will also receive a higher standard deduction than if you file as single or married filing separately.

Per IRS Publication 17, on page 21:

Marital Status

In general, your filing status depends on whether you are considered unmarried or married.

Unmarried persons. You are considered unmarried for the whole year if, on the last day of your tax year, you are either:

  • Unmarried, or
  • Legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.

State law governs whether you are married or legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.

On page 23:

Head of Household

You may be able to file as head of household if you meet all of the following requirements.

  1. You are unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year. See Marital Status, earlier, and Considered Unmarried, later.
  2. You paid more than half of the cost of keeping up a home for the year
  3. A qualifying person lived with you in the home for more than half the year (except for temporary absences, such as school). However, if the qualifying person is your dependent parent, he or she doesn't have to live with you. See Special rule for parent, later, under Qualifying Person.

Considered Unmarried

To qualify for head of household status, you must be either unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year. You are considered unmarried on the last day of the tax year if you meet all of the following tests.

  1. You file a separate return. A separate return includes a return claiming married filing separately, single, or head of household filing status.
  2. You paid more than half of the cost of keeping up your home for the tax year.
  3. Your spouse didn't live in your home during the last 6 months of the tax year. Your spouse is considered to live in your home even if he or she is temporarily absent due to special circumstances. See Temporary absences under Qualifying Person, later.
  4. Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild, or foster child for more than half the year. (See Home of qualifying person under Qualifying Person, later, for rules applying to a child's birth, death, or temporary absence during the year.)
  5. You must be able to claim the child as a dependent. However, you meet this test if you can’t claim the child as a dependent only because the noncustodial parent can claim the child using the rules described in Children of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) under Qualifying Child in chapter 3, or referred to in Support Test for Children of Divorced or Separated Parents (or Parents Who Live Apart) under Qualifying Relative in chapter 3. The general rules for claiming a child as a dependent are explained in chapter 3.

CAUTION! If you were considered married for part of the year and lived in a community property state (listed earlier under Married Filing Separately), special rules may apply in determining your income and expenses. See Pub. 555 for more information.

Nonresident alien spouse. You are considered unmarried for head of household purposes if your spouse was a nonresident alien at any time during the year and you don’t choose to treat your nonresident spouse as a resident alien. However, your spouse isn't a qualifying person for head of household purposes. You must have another qualifying person and meet the other tests to be eligible to file as head of household.

Choice to treat spouse as resident. You are considered married if you choose to treat your spouse as a resident alien. See chapter 1 of Pub. 519.

On page 24:

Special rule for parent. If your qualifying person is your father or mother, you may be eligible to file as head of household even if your father or mother doesn't live with you. However, you must be able to claim your father or mother as a dependent. Also, you must pay more than half of the cost of keeping up a home that was the main home for the entire year for your father or mother.

If you pay more than half of the cost of keeping your parent in a rest home or home for the elderly, that counts as paying more than half of the cost of keeping up your parent's main home.

Note that any link in the information above is updated each year automatically and will take you to the most recent version of the document at the time it is accessed.


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