Correction: Pop Quiz – Can This Student and Spouse Both be Head of Household?


School ABC has a student who got married in November 2018 and completed the 2019-20 FAFSA as "married." However, both the student and the student's spouse filed taxes as head of household in 2017 using the same address. The student claimed a child and their spouse claimed a child from a prior relationship based on an agreement in the divorce decree. The spouse is the noncustodial parent. Can both the student and spouse file head of household in this circumstance?


[Editor's note: A previous version of this pop quiz incorrectly stated that the answer to this question was "yes." After conferring with colleagues with tax expertise, we found the answer is actually no. The answer below has since been updated to reflect this.]

No, the spouse should not have filed as head of household.

Page 22 of IRS Publication 17- "Tax Guide 2018 for Individuals" states:

"You may be able to file as head of household if you meet all 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."

The table on page 24 of IRS Publication 17, "Table 2-1 - Who Is a Qualifying Person Qualifying You To File as Head of Household?" further explains circumstances under which a qualifying child can be a qualifying person for Head of Household status. Footnote 2 beneath this table states:

"The term qualifying child is defined in chapter 3. Note. If you are a noncustodial parent, the term “qualifying child” for head of household filing status doesn't include a child who is your qualifying child only because of the rules described under Children of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) under Qualifying Child in chapter 3. If you are the custodial parent and those rules apply, the child generally is your qualifying child for head of household filing status even though the child isn't a qualifying child you can claim as a dependent."

In summary, while the spouse could claim the child as a dependent, the child was not a qualifying person for head of household status.

Head to our pop quizzes page to review other questions and answers based on real scenarios from financial aid offices.


Publication Date: 3/12/2019

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