Can two parents claim head of household?

mom and child
Head of household status is great for single parents — not so for a married couple.

Head of household is one of the most common tax-filing statuses. But unlike single status, which is for taxpayers with no dependents, or joint filing, which is for married couples who share their finances, head of household status allows deductions for people who are unmarried but still need to be able to claim a dependent.

Although it doesn't offer as big a tax benefit as a joint filing for married couples, claiming head of household does mean a big reduction in the tax burden for single parents and those taking care of elderly relatives or family members who can't care for themselves.


In order to qualify for head of household, you must meet a few conditions. First, the head of household must be unmarried, or at least unmarried for tax purposes (e.g., your spouse lived apart from you for the last half of the tax period). Second, a head of household needs at least one qualified dependent. This is usually a child living in the home, but it can be any person for whom you are responsible financially and who meets qualifications for dependency [source: IRS].

Finally, the head of household needs to be able to prove that he or she was responsible for more than half of the cost of keeping up a home for the year. That's for the house itself — things like property taxes, rent, utilities and food count as contributions, but other family costs aren't necessarily factored in.

Because of the requirement that a head of household contribute more than 50 percent of the household's upkeep, two parents cannot both claim head of household status. This means that head of household and its benefits are available only for whoever is contributing more than 50 percent to the upkeep of the home, and your home was your child's main home for more than half the year [source: IRS].

However, that only means that two parents can't claim head of household for the same dependents. If one of the parents has dependents in a different domicile, two parents could conceivably both claim the status.

For example, if you are unmarried but are caring for your elderly parents who live in another city, you could potentially claim head of household with your mother and father as dependents, provided you are not claiming it in your own home [source: IRS].


Claim Head of Household FAQ

Is it better to file single or head of household?
Filing your taxes as head of household can come with more potential deductions and tax credits. Head of household also comes with a lower tax rate. However, in order to claim you're head of household, you'll need to meet more requirements and qualifications, like having a dependent.
What qualifies you as a head of household?
In order to qualify as a head of household, you must pay for more than half of your household's expenses, be unmarried, and have a child or dependent you'll claim on your tax return.
Can you claim head of household if you have no dependents?
You do need a qualifying dependent in order to claim head of household in most cases. However, that dependent doesn't necessarily have to be your child. Additionally, if you're a custodial parent, you may be able to claim a dependent who does not live with you.
Can I get in trouble for claiming head of household?
If the IRS believes you may not actually be able to claim head of household, they'll reach out to you. They may ask for additional information to support your return, and they may open an audit to investigate the situation.
Can a single woman claim head of household?
A single woman can claim head of household if she meets the other qualifying requirements for this filing status. Being unmarried is one -- she'll also need to pay more than half of household expenses and have a dependent.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Internal Revenue Service. "Filing Status." (Oct. 24, 2014)
  • Internal Revenue Service. "Qualifying Child of More Than One Person." (Oct. 14, 2014)