A common question that many people ask is: Who is entitled to claim the child dependency exemption when the parties are separated or divorced?
As a general rule, if parents are divorced or legally separated, the custodial parent may claim a child as a dependent on his or her income tax return. The custodial parent is the parent with whom the child lived with for the greater number of nights during the calendar year. If a child spends an equal number of nights with each parent, the parent with the greater adjusted gross income is treated as the custodial parent.
Releasing the dependent to the non-custodial parent has no effect on which parent may claim head of household status. Only the custodial parent may claim head of household. The custodial parent may release the claim to exemption for child by the custodial parent by signing FORM 8332. The noncustodial parent must attach this form to his return in initial year and copy in subsequent years. The exemption can be released for one year for a specified number of years or for all future years.
The dependency exemption has an impact on the level of support that you are paying. If the custodial parent releases the exemption to the other parent, the other parent will most likely be entitled to more child support.