Articles Posted in Taxes

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.

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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:

  1. A decree of divorce or separate maintenance or a written instrument incident to such a decree;
  2. A written separation agreement; or
  3. 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.

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