Can You File as Head of Household If You Are Separated?

According to the Internal Revenue Service, a person filing as the head of household is usually unmarried and has supplied more than half of the income to sustain a household that includes at least one other qualifying individual. However, there are circumstances, such as separation, when a married person can claim HOH status.

Considered Unmarried

According to IRS Publication 504, you can file as the HOH while separated if you meet the criteria to be "considered unmarried" on the last day of the year. To qualify, your spouse must have lived outside of your home for the last six months of the year. In addition, you must have provided more than half the support for maintaining the home for the entire year. Notice the difference. If your spouse was not in the home for the last six months, but still provided more than half the support to keep up the home, you cannot claim head of household.

Dependents

Other qualifying factors to be considered unmarried -- and subsequently allow you to file as HOH -- include the care of at least one child. You must be able to claim an exemption for the child, and your home must have been your child's primary residence for more than half of the year. Determining the status of your child as your qualifying depending can get dicey. If you and your spouse both meet the factors to claim the child, the IRS will use a "tie-breaker" to decide who claims the child.

Tips

    • You can also claim other family members as qualifying relatives if they lived with you for more than half the year and you provided more than half of their support for the year. For parents, you must have provided more than half of their support for the tax year. However, there is no requirement stating they had to live with you.
    • Read IRS Publication 501 to learn more about filing status. 

Warnings

  • Depending on your state, community property laws might affect how you claim income on your tax return, even if you claim a separate status such as head of household. Click here to read IRS Publication 555, Community Property. In some cases, you might have to claim a portion of your spouse's income on your separate HOH return.

Tax Fraud

Filing as the HOH can be highly beneficial -- and tempting. You will likely qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, and have a lower tax responsibility. For these reasons, the IRS understands the lure some taxpayers might feel to lie about their living situations. There is no magical gauge to tell if you're subject to audit, but the IRS could contact you to request corroborating documentation that you are, in fact, the head of household. If the IRS determines that you attempted to benefit on your tax return by lying to get EITC, you won't be able to claim the EITC for 10 years.

Warnings

    • The IRS has tools to screen for fraudulent EITC claims.  Don't risk the penalties by filing a fraudulent tax status. For more information, click here.

Tips

    • For more information of tax fraud due to erroneously claiming head of household, click here.

References

About the Author

Michelle Dwyer is a U.S. Army veteran writing fiction and nonfiction since 2003. She specializes in business, careers, leadership, military affairs and organizational change and behavior. Dwyer received an MBA from Tarleton State University/Texas A&M Central Texas and an MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, Calif.