How to Claim Your Same-Sex Spouse as a Dependent

Question: I am in a same-sex marriage. What are the rules for claiming my spouse as a dependent on my tax return?

Answer: It is possible to claim a same-sex spouse as a dependent on a federal tax return, although it’s difficult if the spouse is working.

Basic Rules

  • Your spouse must not be the “qualifying child” of someone else. This will usually not applicable for purposes of our discussion here, but it could potentially come into play if your spouse is under age 23.
  • Your spouse must meet the “member of household” test. This means your spouse must live with you all year.
  • Your spouse’s gross income must be less than the personal exemption amount for that year ($3,700 for 2011; $3,800 for 2012). Gross income includes all income that is subject to tax. This includes wages, and gross receipts from self-employment and rental properties. Social Security benefits are generally not included in gross income for purposes of this test.
  • You must provide more than 1/2 of your spouse’s support for the year. This one is usually obvious if you have a full-time job and your spouse has income less than the exemption amount. Still, I recommend people use the support worksheet provided on page 20 of IRS Publication 501 as a precaution in case the IRS comes calling.

Important Notes

  • Even if you can claim your spouse as a dependent, this will not qualify you for Head of Household filing status or for the Earned Income Credit.
  • On the “gross income” test, it is important to note that you must look at gross receipts from self-employment or rental property. This means, deductions are not taken into consideration.
  • This discussion was aimed at same-sex married couples, but it applies to any situation where two people are considered unmarried for federal tax purposes (so, unmarried people in a same-sex relationship and unmarried people in an opposite-sex relationship).

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