Proving Your Right to Claim a Dependent Child

It’s so frustrating when you’ve been taking care of a child, you claim the child on your tax return, and then the IRS asks you to prove it. The law gives them the right to do that, and the law doesn’t even require the IRS to tell you why they are asking for proof.

If you get a letter from the IRS saying that they want proof that you have the right to claim the dependents you claimed, here is some basic but important information to know.

A qualifying child is a child who is related to you, and who lived with you for at least 6 months of the year. A qualifying child is the category of dependent that can get you the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. If the child is yours, proving the relationship is usually as simple as providing the child’s birth certificate.

If it is a grandchild, sibling, niece, or nephew, you may also have to show the birth certificate of the child’s parent and your birth certificate to prove the relationship. For step-children, a marriage certificate to the child’s biological parent will work. Court paperwork showing the relationship can also be used in cases of adoption, foster parenting, or if you are the child’s parent but your name isn’t on the child’s birth certificate.

Proving that the child lived with you for at least 6 months of the year can be trickier. Generally, the IRS wants to see at least two documents from the year that the tax return is from, that cover a period of at least 6 months, and it wants those documents to have the child’s name and the address where the child was living at that time. If the IRS is now saying you need to prove you had a right to claim the dependents you claimed on your 2019 tax return, that means the IRS wants to see paperwork from 2019. The IRS likes school or medical records with this information, but paperwork from other government offices and organizations, including religious organizations, could also work.

If you don’t have paperwork from the year that the IRS is asking about, you can also get a letter from your child’s school, medical provider, or some other governmental agency or organization, but you need to make sure that the letter states that the child lived with you during the year that the IRS is asking about and lists the address where you lived with the child. The letter should be on official letterhead, with the name, address, and phone number of the person who is signing the letter.

It can be a real hassle to gather this paperwork, but it is the quickest way to resolve things with the IRS. Also, there are all kinds of unique situations that don’t always fit into the IRS’s boxes, including temporary absences.

Don’t give up! There is usually a way to win if the facts are on your side! The IRS has to give you an opportunity to take them to Tax Court before they can officially deny your claim for dependents.

If you are having trouble proving your right to claim dependents to the IRS call us to see if we can help!