My Partner on My Tax Return?
March 1, 2006 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Have you claimed a domestic partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend as a dependent for IRS tax purporses?

I'm asking about this because the issue came up when I started working on my taxes this year. My partner and I are a gay male couple. He is on Social Security Disability for health reasons, and I provide most of our income. Checking the IRS Guidelines for what they call a "Qualifying Relative" I believe we meet the tests for Member of Household, Income, Support, etc. Another good discussion of the issue is found at Tax Mama's Podcast. There's even a tip on Bankrate that talks about claiming an ex-spouse as a dependent.

I had an email discussion about this with some family members who were skeptical, but it seems pretty straightforward to me. They cautioned me that I might be audited if I claimed my partner as a dependent, or that I might even end up in Tax Court! I think a bureucratic letter is more likely, if I hear anything from the IRS about it at all.

My question, though, is really for those who may have done this on their taxes. What was your experience? Did you get any hassle from the IRS? Did you have to supply some special documentation? Or did you encounter no problems at all?

Bonus Question: Did you claim Head of Household filing status based on having a partner/boyfriend/girlfriend as a dependent? What I read in IRS Pub.17 seems a bit ambiguous.

[Tax Filter]
posted by Robert Angelo to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm male. A decade ago, I claimed my girlfriend as a dependant for at least a few years. I looked into filing as head of household, but didn't see how I fit that criteria.

Under the current guidelines though, it seems like I'd be able to claim head of household status, though to be honest, going through that gives me a headache, and I'd probably want to tripple-check it with a nice long break inbetween.

I didn't have any trouble with the IRS back then. I don't see why you would now.
posted by Good Brain at 3:29 PM on March 1, 2006

ASAIK, it used to be OK, but starting with 2005 they changed the definition of dependant from "anyone for whom you provide 50%+ of their support", to the more explicit defintions of family your IRS link talks about.
posted by nomisxid at 3:30 PM on March 1, 2006

nomisxid -- Even when I was claiming my girlfriend, the IRS guidelines were more more complicated than "anyone for whom you provide 50% of their support"

Looking at the current guidelines, it uses the term "qualifying relative," but if you look at the definition of "qualifying relative," it's actually pretty broad:

"1. The person cannot be your qualifying child or the qualifying child of anyone else.

2. The person either (a) must be related to you in one of the ways listed under Relatives who do not have to live with you, or (b) must live with you all year as a member of your household.

3. The person's gross income for the year must be less than $3,200.

4. You must provide more than half of the person's total support for the year."

The only question comes with #2 and even then, its hard to interpret 2b as excluding a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend, or even a platonic hanger-on.
posted by Good Brain at 3:44 PM on March 1, 2006

Robert Angelo: I would suggest adding an email address on your user page.

There are a few accountants who participate on Metafilter and they might not want to post but might want to send you an answer.
posted by mlis at 5:17 PM on March 1, 2006

or (b) must live with you all year as a member of your household.

Doesn't sound like much of a question to me. Either he does or he doesn't... and since it's "either...or", they don't have to be related to you. I think 3 and 4 are the ones to watch for, so just check on that.

Calling an accountant might be a good idea, but assuming Good Brain has a Good Answer, I think that settles it.
posted by SuperNova at 5:24 PM on March 1, 2006

I read 2 a little differently. Subsection (a) seems to be saying that some relatives don't have to live with you and can still be a "qualifying relative. If the relative is not in that category, he or she must live with you under subsection (b).

I'll track down the original statute when I am at work tomorrow. It might not be as vague.
posted by probablysteve at 6:03 PM on March 1, 2006

Best answer: Would you like hear a story from the flip side?

I am a former Internal Revenue Service Tax Examiner who worked in the Individual Master File Adjustments/Correspondence Branch of one the Service Centers about 10 years ago. I did a lot of work with Form 1040X, the form used to amend a previous year's tax return. One day a case came by my desk where a male taxpayer amended his return to claim the dependency exemption (and Head of Household status) for his sick male friend, for who the taxpayer provided more than 50% support. I disallowed it. The reason I put in the open paragraph of the disallowance letter was something like, "You can not claim your friend as a dependent."

Time passed, and the taxpayer called me. He asked "Why not?" I said, "To ensure a quality response, let me investigate further." I checked the taxpayer's account, and for the previous few tax periods, the dependency exemption had been allowed for his friend. I checked Pub. 17, and the friend fit the description of a dependent. So I called the taxpayer back and said, "Based on additional research I am allowing the dependency exemption for your friend. I'll reverse my previous adjustment, and you will get your refund and interest in 6 to 8 weeks, if you don't get it, call me." The taxpayer said, "Thank you." I said, "Our last name is Service!"

The following is my own opinion, and not the opinion of anyone else. This is no substitute for professional tax advice. IMHO, go for it, claim away. My reasoning:

- Based on your description and Pub. 17, the person for who you want to claim the dependency exemption meets the definition of a "qualifying relative" based on Tests 1, 2b, and 4. You did not state that person's gross income, but if it is over $3,200, you are beat. The person needs to pass all four tests to be considered a "qualifying relative". The reason I feel you pass 2b is the line from Pub. 17 that says "To meet this test, a person must either: 1. Live with you all year as a member of your household, or..."

- I sent cases that met the audit criteria in the relevant Internal Revenue Manual to the Examination Branch all the time. More often than not they came back marked "Not Audit Criteria". It costs money to audit people, if the amount of tax revenue is much less than the cost of the audit, they won't bother. I had Schedule E cases bounced back to me all the time. The amount of tax we're talking about here is trivial (to the IRS at least). I won't say you won't get audited, but so fucking what if you are? Each year 2% of taxpayers are audited at random. You may have been audited previously and not know it.

- Suppose you claim this person, and later the IRS says it is not allowed. What's the worst that can happen? Boo hoo, you made a mistake. You are not going to Tax Court. They send you a letter that says "We changed your FORM NAME for tax period YEAR for the following REASON: the taxpayer you claimed as a dependent for ANOTHER REASON is not considered a qualifying relative. Please see the enclosed copy of Publication PUBLICATION NUMBER. This change to your FORM NAME for tax period YEAR means you owe INCREASE IN TAX AMOUNT. Please remit."

Again, this is all just my opinion based on my previous work experience. As I once told an accountant, "The taxpayer is an adult, and can do what he wants." You have my opinion, you'll probably seek others. Heck, you should call your local IRS District Office and ask them what they think.
posted by Fat Guy at 6:41 PM on March 1, 2006

Does the "qualifying relative" have to file taxes in the same state? My girlfriend definitely qualifies, however she still wants to pay taxes as a resident of the state her parents live in, will that be a problem?
posted by splatta at 7:19 PM on March 1, 2006

Here is the actual statute defining qualifying relative:

152(d)(1) IN GENERAL. --The term "qualifying relative" means, with respect to any taxpayer for any taxable year, an individual --

152(d)(1)(A) who bears a relationship to the taxpayer described in paragraph (2),

152(d)(1)(B) whose gross income for the calendar year in which such taxable year begins is less than the exemption amount (as defined in section 151(d)),

152(d)(1)(C) with respect to whom the taxpayer provides over one-half of the individual's support for the calendar year in which such taxable year begins, and

152(d)(1)(D) who is not a qualifying child of such taxpayer or of any other taxpayer for any taxable year beginning in the calendar year in which such taxable year begins.

152(d)(2) RELATIONSHIP. --
For purposes of paragraph (1)(A), an individual bears a relationship to the taxpayer described in this paragraph if the individual is any of the following with respect to the taxpayer:

152(d)(2)(A) A child or a descendant of a child.

152(d)(2)(B) A brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister.

152(d)(2)(C) The father or mother, or an ancestor of either.

152(d)(2)(D) A stepfather or stepmother.

152(d)(2)(E) A son or daughter of a brother or sister of the taxpayer.

152(d)(2)(F) A brother or sister of the father or mother of the taxpayer.

152(d)(2)(G) A son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law.

152(d)(2)(H) An individual (other than an individual who at any time during the taxable year was the spouse, determined without regard to section 7703, of the taxpayer) who, for the taxable year of the taxpayer, has the same principal place of abode as the taxpayer and is a member of the taxpayer's household.

This is what CCH has to say:

Qualifying relatives also include individuals, other than the taxpayer's spouse, who had the same abode as the taxpayer and were members of the taxpayer's household during the taxpayer's tax year (Code Sec. 152(d)(2)(H)). Although these dependents are called "qualifying relatives," this category includes persons who have no family relationship to the taxpayer.

Unfotunately, depending on where you live, you might have to deal with this section:

152(f)(3) DETERMINATION OF HOUSEHOLD STATUS. -- An individual shall not be treated as a member of the taxpayer's household if at any time during the taxable year of the taxpayer the relationship between such individual and the taxpayer is in violation of local law.
posted by probablysteve at 7:12 AM on March 2, 2006

Response by poster: I appreciate your comments. When I asked the question, I'd already made up my mind what I was going to do (which is claim my partner as a dependent). What I was curious about was what happened when people did that, and now I have some answers. Thanks!
posted by Robert Angelo at 10:15 AM on March 3, 2006

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