Relationship Test

What Is the Relationship Test?

The relationship test is one of several tests used by the IRS to determine if a person can be claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return. The relationship test has several criteria, and as long as any one of them is met, the person in question is eligible to be claimed as a dependent by another for tax and legal purposes.

The relationship test mandates that the person in question must be a lineal descendant or ancestor, sibling, in-law, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, or anyone other than the taxpayer's spouse who lived in the taxpayer's household during the entire year.

Key Takeaways

  •  The relationship test is used by the tax code to determine if someone can be claimed as one's dependent.
  • To meet the member of household or relationship test, the person must either live as a member of the taxpayer's household all year or be related to the taxpayer.
  • To qualify under the relationship test, this person must be the taxpayer’s son, daughter, stepchild, foster child (placed by an authorized placement agency), or a descendant (for example, a grandchild) of any of them
  • It may also be a taxpayer’s qualifying brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or a descendant (for example, niece or nephew) of any of them.

Understanding the Relationship Test

A dependent may be a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. Dependency status is determined by Internal Revenue Code (IRC) tests. To qualify for dependent status, there are three tests that must be met for all dependents: dependent taxpayer test, joint return test, and the citizen or resident test. Any person who may be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer may not claim anyone as a dependent on their own tax return.

The relationship test for a qualifying child mandates that the child be the taxpayer's child, stepchild, foster child, adopted child, or any descendant thereof, including a taxpayers’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Children who meet the criteria allow the taxpayer claiming them to receive their dependency exemptions. This test is one of four tests that a child must pass in order to be considered a qualifying child. The others include citizenship tests, age tests, and support tests. It is important to note that an adopted child is treated the same as a natural child and that any of these relationships that were established by marriage are not ended by death or divorce.

A taxpayer may also claim someone other than his or her direct lineal descendant as a dependent, however, the individual in question must be younger in age, such as a taxpayer’s younger brother, younger sister, younger step-sibling, or the offspring of any of these examples. And for the purposes of the relationship test, divorce or death does not change any of the aforementioned relationship statuses that were previously established by marriage. A foster child meets the relationship test if the youngster is placed in a taxpayer's home by an authorized agency or by a judgment or decree or by order of a court or other legally recognized jurisdiction.

The relationship test is one of five available tests for claiming tax dependents. The support test, for example, mandates that the taxpayer must have provided more than half of the prospective dependent’s living expenses during the year.

Special Considerations

Taxpayers are entitled to claim one exemption for each person they can claim as a dependent, and they may claim exemptions for dependents even said dependent files his or her own returns. Taxpayers must provide more than half of the potential dependent’s total support for the year; however, some exceptions may be made if there are multiple support agreements, children of divorced or separated parents or parents who live apart, children who are kidnapped, and children who were born or died during the year.

The person cannot be your qualifying child or the qualifying child of any other taxpayer, and the person's gross income for the year must be less than $4,200, with the exception of certain disabled individuals, who have income from sheltered workshops.

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  2. Internal Revenue Services. "Tax Tutorial." Accessed Feb. 4, 2020.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Be Tax Ready – Understanding Tax Reform Changes Affecting Individuals and Families." Accessed March 3, 2020.