We are divorce attorneys, not tax experts, but marriage and finances are so intertwined that inevitably divorce and taxes do intersect. Each year as the IRS tax return filing deadline approaches, we are increasingly confronted by our clients with tax preparation questions. For specific tax inquiries, we advise that you consult a tax professional. However, we felt it may be useful to share a brief (non-exhaustive) list of some common points Continue reading
According to section 215 of the Internal Revenue Code, spousal support (otherwise known as alimony) is generally taxable income to the payee and tax deductible to the payor. However, if payors aren’t careful, they may inadvertently agree to support arrangements that are not deductible.
In California, the Court has discretion, and often exercises this discretion, to award spousal support retroactively to the date of filing. For instance, if a spouse files a spousal support motion on January 1, 2016, but it is not heard until March 1, 2016, the Court can still order the payor to pay for the months of January and February even though the hearing wasn’t until March.
It’s that time of year again…tax time! It’s a time of gathering all of your financial documents and keeping your fingers crossed that you will get a big refund in the mail rather than having to pay Uncle Sam more money out of your pocket. Whether you got divorced or had your marriage annulled last year, filing taxes this year will certainly be different. In particular, if you had your marriage annulled, there are some specific issues you may have to deal with.
Whether you have been divorced or had your marriage annulled, either way you look at it, your marriage has come to an end. However, a divorce is the end of a marriage that was valid at the time the parties wed. An annulment, on the other hand, marks the end of a marriage that was either void or voidable at the time the parties wed. For instance, under Family Code Sections 2200 and 2201, the marriage may have been void in California if it was illegal due to incest or bigamy. Or under Family Code Section 2210, the marriage may have been voidable due to a number of reasons, including fraud, force, physical incapacity, and unsound mind. The marriage may also have been voidable because the party filing for the annulment was under eighteen years old at the time of the marriage. Or lastly, the marriage maybe voidable and thus an annulment granted if there was a prior existing marriage that took place after the former spouse was absent for five years and not known to be living.
If the marriage simply ended by means of a divorce (also known as a dissolution of marriage in California) by December 31st of the prior year, then you will be required to file a separate tax return for the taxes due April 15th of the following year. You won’t be able to even file married filing separately if your divorce has actually been finalized by the court as of the end of the prior year.
However, if your marriage ended via an annulment, then tax filing gets a bit more complicated. If you were married during the last tax cycle, then chances are that you filed your taxes as “married filing jointly” with your spouse. Once the April 15th tax deadline has passed, people who filed joint tax returns are usually not allowed by the IRS to change their filing status to file separately. However, since your marriage was annulled, that means that your marriage was never valid at the time you previously filed joint tax returns. Consequently, you must now file an amended tax return for the prior year as a single person rather than as married filing jointly. This may result in you paying more taxes because typically filing jointly with your spouse has some tax benefits that single filers don’t get. On the flip side, if you would have paid less in taxes as a single person, then you will be entitled to a refund when you file the amended tax return. In addition to amending your previous tax return(s), you must file this year’s taxes separately.
By now, it’s likely that you’ve heard the H&R Block commercials or you are at least aware of their well-advertised “Get Your Billion Back America” campaign. H&R Block, like many other tax service companies, is clearly committed to pushing for consumers to use their services so they can help them get the maximum tax benefit that they deserve. Whether you use H&R Block, one of the many online tax service programs, a personal accountant or do your taxes yourself, it is important to understand how marriage and divorce may affect your taxes. Here are some helpful tips for divorced taxpayers.
1. Know your Filing Status.
Just like getting married affected your filing status, getting divorced will too. If your divorce is official as of December 31st of the year prior to when you are filing your taxes (i..e divorced by December 31, 2014 for 2014 taxes filed no later than April 15, 2015), then you will need to file separate tax returns. No, not “married filing separately”, but rather “single”. A change in your filing status could drastically affect the amount of taxes that you are responsible for paying.
2. Adjust your Income Tax Withholding on your W-4.
As discussed above, a change in your marital status will affect your tax filing status. As a result, the amount of income tax that should be withheld from your paycheck will change. The Form W-4 that your employer gave you to fill out when you first started your, is what determines how much income tax you have withheld from each paycheck. So once your divorce is finalized, you should go to your payroll department and ask to fill out a new Form W-4 and update the number of allowances that you are claiming.
3. Know When to Claim or Deduct Child and Spousal Support.
If you are receiving/paying either temporary or permanent spousal support and/or child support, then it is important to know how to properly claim or deduct it on your tax returns. Generally, if you are the one receiving spousal support, then you must claim it as income on your tax returns. Child support, however, does not count as income for federal income tax purposes and thus is not taxable. If you are the one paying support, on the other hand, you may typically deduct the spousal support payments from your income, but not child support payments. However, it’s important to take a close look at your divorce decree because sometimes, spouses agree to designate spousal support payments as non-taxable and non-deductible.
In California divorce cases parties often overlook the tax treatment of their proposed actions when negotiating settlement agreements. A husband might say, “I will pay you more spousal support than child support because our child is turning eighteen (18) soon and child support will terminate.” A wife might say, “I will pay you $100,000.00 if you just waive your right to spousal support.” In order to compromise an attorney might propose, “Let’s start with a high spousal support amount for the first year and step the amount down as time goes on.” However, family law litigants should think carefully about these proposals because they all contain hidden tax consequences.
In a recent post-judgment modification case, Alice requested an increase in the amount of monthly spousal support she received from her former husband, John. The parties reached an out of court settlement and John agreed to pay Alice a lump sum payment of $350,000 in exchange for her agreement to waive any future right to spousal support. After the parties formalized their agreement, John paid Alice $350,000. As John was used to deducting his monthly spousal support payments on his tax returns, he deducted the $350,000 spousal support payment on his return the following year. The IRS disallowed all but one month’s worth of spousal support as a deduction for John. On appeal, the tax court held that a lump sum settlement of future spousal support was non-deductible because the obligation to make the payment would not have expired in the event of Alice’s death.
Generally, Congress draws a clear line between child support, spousal support, and property settlements in order to ensure that parties can only deduct payment of spousal support. Further, Congress has structured the law to ensure parties cannot structure property settlements that are disguised as spousal support. As is evident in this dramatic example, the ability to deduct $350,000 of spousal support versus being barred from such a deduction results in a radically different amount of money paid out-of-pocket. On the other side of this case, Alice received $350,000 in non-taxable spousal support which otherwise would have been taxed to her at her normal rate. Alice received substantially more net income than she otherwise would have.
In sum, taxation and family law is a complicated crossover of two different areas of law. Your property and support agreements may involve serious tax implications and therefore, it is always advisable to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney regarding your divorce issues.
During this time of year many people get motivated to clean out their closets and clean up their finances. If you are considering pursuing a divorce this year, you will also want to consider using some of that “spring cleaning” energy to prepare for the changes to come. There are a lot of small steps potential family law litigants can take in order to make the divorce process run more smoothly and affordably.
Get your financial documents in order
With tax season in full swing, there is no better time to collect and organize all of your financial documents. Sit down with your spouse and figure out what each of you earns and how much the family spends each month on living expenses. In addition, discuss all of your joint and separate assets and debts. Collecting documentation on these topics such as income, expenses, assets and debts will save you substantial time and money in the divorce process. At the outset of every divorce case, both parties are required to set forth all material facts and information regarding their finances. Gathering these documents and information ahead of time will jump start your case.
Check into your credit score
In order to start a separate financial life from your spouse you may need to obtain your own loans and credit cards. If there is an error in your credit report, it is better to address it before your potential new creditors discover it. Typically repairing your credit can take a significant amount of time. If you are newly divorced, you will likely need credit immediately for a potential refinance, purchasing your own vehicle, or starting a line of credit. Therefore, it is always a good idea to check your credit sooner rather than later.
Get credit cards and bank accounts set up in your name
One of the most expensive and fruitless endeavors in a family law case is the issue of credits/reimbursements for post-separation expenditures. Once you and your spouse have separated, it is much cleaner for the both of you to begin using separate bank accounts and credit cards. If you untangle your finances at the beginning of the case, you can avoid analyzing mountains of paperwork attempting to decipher who spent what post-separation. If your spouse is not aware that you will be filing for divorce, it is advisable to open new accounts with different entities than the ones which hold your current joint accounts.
Begin to process your emotions
Divorce is an extremely emotional process for a majority of parties. However the process of divorce should be logical and analyzed from a financial standpoint. In order to separate your emotions from your financial decisions, you might want to begin processing the idea of divorce early. If helpful, begin speaking with a licensed mental health professional to deal with your emotional needs. Venting to your divorce attorney about marital discord is less useful and much more expensive than a weekly therapy session.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was enacted on September 21, 1996 and permitted the states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages legally entered into in other states. This means that under DOMA, if a same-sex couple who legally married in Hawaii moved to California, California would not be required to recognize the marriage and provide state benefits otherwise provided to married couples. In June 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States declared DOMA unconstitutional. In the aftermath of that landmark decision many same-sex couples are questioning whether they will receive any retroactive relief for the various benefits they were deprived of for nearly seventeen years.
New York legalized same-sex marriage in June 2011 and extended equal rights under estate tax law to legally married same-sex couples in July that same year. Estate tax rights were even extended to those married in other states before New York legalized same-sex marriage. However, federal laws prevented New York from implementing any retroactive application of the estate tax law. This problem came to light when Edie Windsor sued the IRS for denial of her right to inherit granted to other married couples. In 2009, Edie paid $363,000 in federal taxes upon the death of her spouse. As their marriage was not federally recognized under the tax code, she was unable to reap estate tax benefits available to married couples. The Supreme Court held Edie was entitled to a tax refund.
Similarly, since Massachusetts issued the first marriage license in the United States to a same-sex couple in 2004, wedded same-sex couples have been unable to file joint federal tax returns. Although a same-sex couple may be married under the laws of their home state, they were unable to claim any federal tax benefits. Now that such federal tax laws have been overturned, same-sex couples question whether they can retroactively realize federal tax benefits back to the date of their marriage.
In general, a tax refund can be claimed within three years of filing the incorrect tax return or within two years of the overpayment. Under this common rule, same-sex married couples may be able to collect overpaid taxes for the past three tax years. Some have rumored that the IRS will extend this typical statue of limitations to allow same-sex married couples to collect tax refunds even further back.
With Tax Day (April 15th) near approaching, both CPAs and divorce attorneys alike are likely receiving an influx phone calls from clients regarding the tax implications of spousal support, often referred to as alimony.
Generally, spousal support is considered to be tax-deductible to the spouse who is paying the support. On the other hand, spousal support must be reported as taxable income to the spouse who is receiving the support. For individuals who stay at home to care for young children and have no other source of income other than the receipt of spousal support after divorce, the tax hit due April 15th might pose quite a significant financial concern.
Although not commonly known, spousal support payments can in fact be designated as non-taxable and non-deductible so long as both parties agree and such an agreement is pursuant to a divorce or separation instrument. During divorce settlement negotiations, agreeing to designate spousal support as non-deductible and non-taxable may be suggested by divorce attorneys in situations where the paying spouse does not want/need the tax deduction, and the recipient spouse does not want to report the income. For instance, as described above, the receiving spouse may not want to report the income so as to avoid the tax hit at the end of the year. Lolli-Ghetti v. Lolli-Ghetti, on the other hand, is an example of a divorce case where the payee spouse did not need the tax deduction because he was a resident of Monaco and the bulk of his income was therefore not subject to federal, state and local income taxes.
There are three types of divorce or separation agreements by which the designation of non-taxable/non-deductible spousal support can be detailed in:
- A decree of divorce or separate maintenance or a written instrument incident to such a decree;
- A written separation agreement; or
- A decree requiring a spouse to make payments for the support or maintenance of the other spouse (as defined in 26 U.S.C. §71 (b)(2)).
The instrument must contain a clear and explicit designation that the parties have elected for the spousal support to be non-taxable to the payee and thus excluded from payee’s gross income and non-deductible to the payor. It is also important to note that a copy of the instrument, which contains the above designation of spousal support payments as non-taxable/non-deductible, must be attached to the payee’s tax return (Form 1040) for each year that the designation applies to.