On the federal level, you have a number of big sources of authority. The most dramatic is probably the Executive Order: the President has sat down at his sweet desk, pulled out The First Pen (ink force one?), and made some sort of Decree. He doesn’t get to make up new laws, but he does wield a lot of power. Hell, with an Executive Order, President Truman almost nationalized the steel industry.
There’s also Congress, which is probably the most conventional source of authority: if you want a new law, you write your Senator or Representative a nice big check letter, explaining your concern. You’ve also got federal courts, which interpret law and impose balancing tests and invent factors of elements of crimes that Congress failed to draft, owing to the latter’s overall lack of psychic abilities.
But there are also agencies: created by Congressional Act, these entities incorporate a little of all three branches. While they don’t get to enact legislation, they do get to promulgate regulations. Those two ideas may sound alike, but I assure you that there are no synonyms in law.
Take the agency most of us focus on this time of year: the IRS. Congress passes the actual Internal Revenue Code, but the IRS promulgates regulations to supplement the requirements of the code itself. There’s also something called Revenue Rulings: think of them as IRS newsletters, but instead of birthdays and promotion notifications, they contain guidance about how the IRS plans to enforce its rules and regulations. You can even pay the IRS to examine your situation and tell you what to do. In addition to all these sources of authority, you’ve also got a limited variety of courts that rule on the rules and regulations.
With all this to keep track of, the IRS is aware that certain situations can still be a little tricky to sort out. As such, the IRS has still more miscellaneous publications that address common questions; The Prestigious Internet has located a lovely specimen.
The IRS has addressed the apparently(?) common question of whether you can write off a child as a deduction if they’ve been kidnapped. In the matter-of-fact way that only the federal government can muster, the IRS notes that this tax treatment only applies until there has been a determination that your child is dead, and won’t apply if another family member has kidnapped your child.
I kind of wonder about that last requirement: I’m certain it’s there to close a loophole, but I can’t for the life of me imagine a scenario in which you need your ne’er-do-well brother to kidnap your children. You know, for tax purposes.