To claim head of household on federal tax returns, taxpayers must be unmarried or considered unmarried on the final day of the tax year, pay over half the expenses of maintaining the home, and have a qualifying dependent, reports the Internal Revenue Service. Although normally the dependent person must live with the head of household, the IRS makes exceptions for temporary absences and dependent parents.
For claiming head of household status, tax law considers people unmarried if they are divorced, legally separated or single, explains About.com. The status of married same-sex couples depends on the state where they got married. Couples who are legally married can consider themselves unmarried for head of household status if they live in separate households for at least the last six months of the tax year. Taxpayers with nonresident alien spouses can declare themselves unmarried for tax purposes, adds the IRS.
In assessing whether they pay over half the cost of maintaining their homes, taxpayers can count mortgage payments, rent, home repairs, and property taxes and insurance, according to the IRS. They can also count utility costs, food and other necessary household expenses. However, they cannot include expenses for education, transportation, clothing or medical expenses. Dependents who are qualifying children include stepchildren, foster children, grandchildren and siblings. Dependents must reside with heads of household for over half the year, but the IRS makes exceptions for temporary absences such as education, business, sickness, vacation or military service. Parents may qualify as dependents even if they live in a rest home, as long as taxpayers pay over half the cost of keeping them there.