Can I Claim a Non-Working Spouse as a Dependent?

The IRS does not consider spouses to be dependents for tax purposes.
The IRS does not consider spouses to be dependents for tax purposes. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Taxpayers who have a non-working spouse likely provide the full amount of support for the household. However, the Internal Revenue Service never considers spouses as eligible dependents for income tax purposes. Despite this guideline, taxpayers can still receive a deduction on their tax returns when they file jointly with their non-working spouses.

Filing Statuses for Married Couples

Married couples can choose one of two filing statuses on their income tax returns. They can file together using the "Married Filing Joint" status, or they can file two individual returns by claiming the "Married Filing Separately" status. Generally, it is best for spouses to file jointly, since doing so entitles them to tax credits as well as a higher standard deduction amount.

Personal Exemptions

When married couples file a joint tax return, they each receive a personal exemption. While a non-working spouse does not qualify as a dependent for tax purposes, he or she receives a personal exemption that is equal to the dependent exemption. The working spouse deducts this exemption from his or her taxable income on the return.

Eligible Dependents

Taxpayers cannot claim non-working spouses as dependents, but they may be able to claim other persons in the household on their tax returns. To qualify as a dependent exemption, an individual must meet several tests relating to citizenship, relationship to the taxpayer and the support he received from the taxpayer during the year.

Exemptions for Dependents

The IRS grants taxpayers a dependent exemption for each eligible dependent on their tax returns. Taxpayers then deduct these amounts from their gross income, reducing the total amount of tax they owe.

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