Tie Breaker Rules

Only one person can use the same qualifying child. If a child is the qualifying child of more than one person, only one person can claim the child as a qualifying child for all of the following tax benefits:

  • EITC with a qualifying child
  • Dependency exemption for the child,
  • Child tax credit,
  • Head of household filing status,
  • Credit for child and dependent care expenses, and
  • Exclusion for dependent care benefits.


The other person(s) cannot take any of the six tax benefits listed above unless he or she has a different qualifying child.* The other person(s) can take the EITC with no qualifying child if they otherwise qualify. Find examples of how this rule works here. The IRS changed its position on who can claim the credit if a qualifying child qualifies more than one person through proposed regulationsPDF. This change affects all open tax years.

If the person(s) can’t agree on who claims the child as a qualifying child, and more than one person claims tax benefits using the same child, the tiebreaker rule explained below applies. Ignore this rule if you and your spouse both claim the same qualifying child and you file a joint return.

*Special rules apply for children of divorced or separate parents. See Publication 596, Earned Income Credit, on irs.gov for more information or Publication 596 SP, Crédito por Ingreso del TrabajoPDF.PDF


Under the Tiebreaker Rule, the Child is Treated as a Qualifying Child Only By:

  •  The parents, if they file a joint return**;
  • The parent, if only one of the persons is the child's parent;
  • The parent with whom the child lived the longest during the tax year, if two of the persons are the child's parent and they do not file a joint return together;
  • The parent with the highest adjusted gross income (AGI) if the child lived with each parent for the same amount of time during the tax years, and they do not file a joint return together;
  • The person with the highest AGI, if no parent can claim the child as a qualifying child; or
  • A person with the higher AGI than any parent who can claim the child as a qualifying child but does not.  


**You must use the total amount of AGI reported on a joint return when determining who has the highest AGI. This procedure was clarified by the IRS in a proposed regulationPDF and can be applied for any open tax year.