Mr. Nielson has given good advice, except that I believe that you can claim HOH filing status in the years where you are allowed to claim your son as a dependent per the divorce decree. Please find attached a previous response to this question that I posted.
You can file your tax return for this year under the head of household filing status and claim your son as a dependent on the return. Please find attached excerpts from IRS Publication 501, which sets forth the requirements for claiming head of household filing status and a special rule for separated spouses to claim their child as a qualifying dependent:
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 the following tests.
1. You file a separate return (defined earlier under Joint Return After Separate Returns ).
2. You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the tax year.
3. Your spouse did not 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 , 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 , later, for rules applying to a child's birth, death, or temporary absence during the year.)
5. You must be able to claim an exemption for the child. However, you meet this test if you cannot claim the exemption only because the noncustodial parent can claim the child using the rules described later in Children of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) under Qualifying Child or in Support Test for Children of Divorced or Separated Parents (or Parents Who Live Apart) under Qualifying Relative. The general rules for claiming an exemption for a dependent are explained later under Exemptions for Dependents .
Children of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart). In most cases, because of the residency test, a child of divorced or separated parents is the qualifying child of the custodial parent. However, the child will be treated as the qualifying child of the noncustodial parent if all four of the following statements are true.
1. The parents:
Are divorced or legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance,
Are separated under a written separation agreement, or
Lived apart at all times during the last 6 months of the year, whether or not they are or were married.
2. The child received over half of his or her support for the year from the parents.
3. The child is in the custody of one or both parents for more than half of the year.
4. Either of the following statements is true.
The custodial parent signs a written declaration, discussed later, that he or she will not claim the child as a dependent for the year, and the noncustodial parent attaches this written declaration to his or her return. (If the decree or agreement went into effect after 1984 and before 2009, see Post-1984 and pre-2009 divorce decree or separation agreement , later. If the decree or agreement went into effect after 2008, see Post-2008 divorce decree or separation agreement , later.)
A pre-1985 decree of divorce or separate maintenance or written separation agreement that applies to 2012 states that the noncustodial parent can claim the child as a dependent, the decree or agreement was not changed after 1984 to say the noncustodial parent cannot claim the child as a dependent, and the noncustodial parent provides at least $600 for the child's support during the year.
The answer to this question does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Moreover, this attorney is licensed to practiced law ONLY in the State of California. Answers to questions from users in other jurisdictions or states are meant to provide only general information. Users should contact a local attorney in their jurisdiction or state to address their specific tax issue.
In the years you don't have a dependent, you'd need to file single. In the years when you do claim the dependent, there's a possibility you'd be able to file HoH but from what you're describing, you may still end up needing to file single. I'd recommend you consult with your personal tax professional and then proceed accordingly.
Evan A. Nielsen is licensed to practice law in California and handles federal tax matters throughout the U.S. The information provided here is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice for a particular matter. This response does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult an attorney.
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