When can I claim children whom are unrelated to me?

There are a number of situations when you can claim a child for a tax exemption even though he or she is not actually related to you. Beginning in 2005, for income tax purposes the child is treated as your child in the following situations:
  • The child is under age seventeen (or twenty-four if a full time student) at year's end.
  • Legally adopted children are treated as your own child and qualify for an exemption.
  • A child placed with you for adoption by an authorized agency is treated as your own child; the child does not have to live with you for the entire year.
  • A child placed with you by an authorized agency or by court order is treated as your own child; if the placement is temporary, however, a different rule applies. If the child is temporarily placed in your home by a foster care agency and the care of the child remains under the supervision of the agency, the child does not qualify as a dependent. Expenses you incur in caring for the person (net of reimbursements) can be deducted as a charitable contribution, Rev.Rul 77-280, 1977-2 C.B. 14.
A person that meets any of the above definitions is also considered a qualifying child for purposes of the earned income tax credit. There are other requirements to claim tax benefits normally associated with a 'child' meeting the above definitions. For example, one of the actual parents may be entitled to the tax benefits.

Claiming other persons -- If the particular individual does not fit within one of the above categories, the 'child' may still qualify you for a tax exemption, but the rules are stricter. Each of the following requirements must be satisfied:
  • The 'child' must have a specified relationship to you (e.g. brother, cousin, nephew, parent, child), or he or she must have lived with you the entire year as a member of your household.  If the relationship violates local law, it may not count.
  • For year 2009, the 'child' must have gross income of less than $3,650.
  • You must have provided over 50% or his or her support (there are exceptions for separated parents and multiple support agreements involving a group of persons).
  • No one else may claim the ‘child’ as a 'qualifying child'.

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