A married couple filing a joint tax return can claim an exemption for both spouses of $3,950 each. The amount of the exemption is lowered if the couple has a total AGI greater than $305,050, phasing out completely at $427,550 [source: IRS].
If a married couple decides to file separately, the rules get trickier. If both of the spouses earn income, then they cannot claim each other for a spousal exemption. If one spouse earns income, but the other one doesn't, then the working spouse can claim two exemptions, one for him or herself and one for the nonworking spouse.
If you're filing as head of household, you need to either be unmarried or "considered unmarried" to qualify. It would seem, then, impossible to claim a spousal exemption. Not so! According to IRS rules, you are "considered unmarried" if your spouse didn't live with you for the last six months of the tax year, you provided more than half of the cost of keeping up your home, and you filed a separate return. If you meet those criteria, plus your spouse didn't earn any income, you can still claim a spousal exemption as head of household, provided you're supporting at least one child or qualifying relative (see the next page for more on this).
Some notes on spouse exemptions for widows/widowers [source: IRS]:
- If your spouse died during the tax year, you can still claim an exemption for him or her.
- If you remarry in the same year that your first spouse dies, you cannot claim an exemption for both spouses.