The new tax law will affect people differently, depending on whether they’re paying or receiving alimony.
In divorce situations, one spouse or ex-spouse may become legally obligated to make payments to the other party. Because these payments are often substantial, locking in tax deductions for the payer has often been an important issue. Before the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), payments that met the tax-law definition of alimony could always be deducted by the payer for federal income tax purposes. And recipients of alimony payments always had to report the payments as taxable income.
This old-law treatment continues for alimony payments made under pre-2019 divorce agreements. But for payments made under post-2018 agreements, things will change dramatically. Here’s the story.
TCJA eliminates deductions for alimony payments required by post-2018 divorce agreements
For payments required under divorce or separation instruments that are executed after Dec. 31, 2018, the new law eliminates the deduction for alimony payments. Recipients of affected alimony payments will no longer have to include them in taxable income.
This TCJA treatment of alimony payments will apply to payments that are required under divorce or separation instruments that are: (1) executed after Dec. 31, 2018 or (2) modified after that date if the modification specifically states that the TCJA treatment of alimony payments (not deductible by the payer and not taxable income for the recipient) now applies.
For individuals who must pay alimony, this change can be expensive — because the tax savings from being able to deduct alimony payments can be substantial.
No change in tax treatment for payments required by pre-2019 divorce agreements.
There’s no change in the federal income tax treatment of divorce-related payments that are required by divorce agreements that are executed before 2019. However, for these payments to qualify as deductible alimony, payers must still satisfy the time-honored list of specific tax-law requirements. If those requirements are met, alimony payments can be written off above-the-line on the payer’s federal income tax return. That means the payer does not have to itemize to benefit from the deduction. Payment recipients must include alimony payments that are required by divorce agreements executed before 2019 in their taxable income. So this is a continuation of business as usual.
When payments fail to meet the tax-law definition of alimony, they are generally treated as either child support payments or payments to divide the marital property. Such payments represent nondeductible personal expenses for the payer and tax-free money for the recipient.
Requirements for deductible alimony
Whether payments required by pre-2019 divorce agreements qualify as tax-deductible alimony or not is determined strictly by applying the applicable language in our beloved Internal Revenue Code and related regulations. In general, what the divorce decree says and what the divorcing couple might intend does not matter. For a particular payment required by a pre-2019 divorce agreement to qualify as deductible alimony, all the following requirements must be met.
1. Written Instrument Requirement
The payment must be made pursuant to a written divorce or separation instrument. This term includes divorce decrees, separate maintenance decrees, and separation instruments.
2. Payment Must Be to or on Behalf of Spouse or Ex-Spouse
To qualify as deductible alimony, a payment must be to or on behalf of a spouse or ex-spouse. Payments to third parties, such as attorneys and mortgage lenders, are permitted if they are made on behalf of a spouse or ex-spouse and pursuant to a divorce or separation agreement or at the written request of the spouse or ex-spouse.
3. Payment Cannot Be Stated to Not Be Alimony
The divorce or separation instrument cannot state that the payment in question is not alimony or effectively stipulate that it is not alimony because it is not deductible by the payer or not includable in the payee’s gross income.
4. Ex-Spouses Cannot Live in Same Household or File Jointly
After divorce or legal separation has occurred, the ex-spouses cannot live in the same household or file a joint return for payments to qualify as deductible alimony.
5. Cash or Cash Equivalent Requirement
To be deductible alimony, a payment must be made in cash or cash equivalent.
6. Cannot Be Child Support
To be deductible alimony, a payment cannot be classified as fixed or deemed child support under the alimony tax rules. The rules regarding what constitutes child support–especially what constitutes deemed child support–for this purpose are complicated and represent a nasty trap for unwary taxpayers. Contact a tax professional if your proposed divorce agreement includes payments that you intend to be alimony as well as payments that you intend to be child support.
7. Payee’s Social Security Number Requirement
For the payer to claim an alimony deduction for a payment, the payer’s return must include the payee’s Social Security number.
8. No Obligations for Payments to Continue after Recipient’s Death
The obligation to make payments (other than payments of delinquent amounts) must cease if the recipient party dies. If the divorce papers are unclear about whether or not payments must continue, applicable state law controls. If under state law, the payer must continue to make payments after the recipient’s death (to the recipient’s estate or beneficiaries), the payments cannot be deductible alimony. In other words, the payment obligation must cease if the recipient party dies in order for the payment to qualify as deductible alimony. Failing to meet this requirement for payments to cease if the recipient dies is the most common reason for lost alimony deductions.
If you are in divorce proceedings and want deductible alimony treatment for some or all of the payments that will be made to the other party, the TCJA gives you a huge incentive to get your divorce agreement wrapped up and signed by 12/31/18.
On the other hand, if you will be the recipient of payments, you have a big incentive to put off finalizing your agreement until next year, because the payments would be tax-free to you.
Either way, you should contact a tax pro with experience in divorce tax issues sooner rather than later to get the best tax results for yourself. Waiting too long could turn out to be an expensive mistake tax-wise, and you may have to live with that expensive mistake for years. Finally, be warned that many otherwise-competent divorce attorneys are not up to speed on the tax issues, and they may be reluctant to admit it. So don’t assume that your divorce attorney is ready, willing, and able to get you the best tax results. Some divorcing taxpayers will want to delay their divorces, while others will want to get it done as soon as possible
This is probably one of the most common mistakes in settlement agreements and even final judgments, since often times attorneys prepare the final judgment which the judge simply signs. It often erroneously states “retirement plan” without ever defining the type of plan(s) to be divided.
Retirement plans can be defined contribution plans, defined benefit plans or some type of hybrid. These plans are vastly different and have different implications when trying to divide them. In defined contribution plans, an employee and/or employer make contributions into an account maintained in the employee’s name. These plans have a known account balance at any given time, since the underlying account is nearly always invested in publicly traded securities. In a defined benefit plan, the employee accumulates credits towards their retirement based upon years of service to an employer, and often based on compensation earned.
Typically, when a settlement agreement says the parties will “divide a retirement plan” it can be interpreted that the non-employee is going to receive a lump sum amount. However, if the plan is a defined benefit plan, they may not be receiving any money until the working party retires. Further, they may never receive a lump sum – but rather a monthly benefit payment.
Knowing the plan type and the benefit that can be divided (a lump sum now, a lump sum later or a stream of income) can substantially affect how you may choose to negotiate a resolution.
* Include the plan type in your agreement if it is not part of the name of the plan.
* Describe in the agreement if the receiving party will get a lump sum now, a lump sum at a future date or payments over time and when those payments will begin and end.
EXAMPLE: The husband participates in the “ABC Company Pension Plan” which has a cash balance plan with a defined benefit component. If the parties desire to divide the cash balance equally and the defined benefit component based on the marital coverture, the language must be specific. In this case “divide the retirement plan equally” would not be an acceptable reference for the plan administrator to implement a QDRO.
The main purpose of grouping taxpayers according to filing status is based on the presumption that, with the same income, single people can afford to pay a higher tax rate than those with children and, by allowing joint filing, it simplifies tax filing for married couples. There are 5 filing statuses:
State law determines single status but it is sometimes modified by federal law. Generally, single means unmarried, divorced or legally separated at the end of the tax year. Taxpayers filing as single or as married filing separately pay the highest tax rates.
Head of Household Status
The head of household status can be claimed if:
you are unmarried, or are considered unmarried, by year-end,
you paid more than ½ of the expenses for maintaining a household,
you provided more than 50% support for a child, parent, or other qualifying relative, and who, except for a parent, lived with you for more than ½ year, and
you were a United States citizen or resident for the entire year.
A qualifying child or relative must be legally related to you. Hence, boyfriends, girlfriends, or their children do not qualify you for head of household status even if they live with you and you provide more than ½ of their support.
You are considered unmarried if you are:
single at the end of the tax year
legally separated or divorced under a final court decree by the end of the tax year
Note that the court decree must be final; provisional decrees for custody or support do not qualify as a legal separation.
married but lived apart from your spouse during the last 6 months of the tax year
married to a spouse who was a nonresident alien at any time during the tax year and you did not elect to file a joint return, reporting your joint worldwide income
In determining whether a child lives with you for more than ½ year, temporary absences, such as vacation or when the child stays with the other parent pursuant to a child custody agreement does not count. If a dependent dies before the end of the tax year, head of household status can still be claimed if the taxpayer provided more than ½ of the cost of maintaining the household before the dependent’s death. A parent may be claimed as a dependent if you paid more than ½ of your parent’s household expenses, even if the parent lives elsewhere.
Household expenses include utilities, repairs, mortgage interest, property taxes, rent, property insurance, domestic help, and food eaten within the home, but does not include the cost of clothing, education, medical expenses, life insurance, vacation costs, or any provided transportation. In other words, expenses that are specifically for the individual are generally not included: only expenses for the household are counted. Moreover, you cannot count the value of your work around the home, since it is too easy to overstate its value.
Abandoned spouse rules allow a taxpayer who was abandoned by her spouse to file as head of household. Congress enacted these rules because otherwise the separated parent may be forced to use unfavorable tax rates if she has to file married filing separately. To qualify as an abandoned spouse, you must satisfy the following requirements:
you did not file a joint return
you can claim the child, stepchild, or adopted child as a dependent
your qualified dependent lived with you for more than ½ year
you paid for more than ½ of household expenses during the last 6 months of the tax year
your spouse did not live in the home during the last 6 months of the tax year
As a custodial parent, you can allow your ex-spouse to claim 1 or more of your dependents without giving up your head of household status, which may be advantageous if your ex-spouse is in a higher income tax bracket, but whose income is still below the phase-out limit for claiming dependent deductions or who is not subject to the alternative minimum tax, which is not reduced by exemptions. Who claims who can be changed from year to year, between you and your ex-spouse, but the noncustodial parent must file Form 8332 (Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent) for every year that he claims the exemption, and you must also sign the form.
Certain tax benefits are only available to joint filers, especially if 1 spouse has little or no income. For instance, the working spouse can claim an IRA deduction for a nonworking spouse. Although a couple filing separately can claim an IRA contribution, the phaseout limit for a married person filing separately is $10,000 of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which, for most individuals, is equal to adjusted gross income. Since this is much less than what most people earn, filing separately effectively eliminates IRA deductions. For couples filing separately, the alternative minimum tax exemption and the right to deduct up to $3,000 of net capital losses against other income is ½ of the amount available to joint and other filers. Moreover, a spouse filing separately may not claim the
Additionally, 85% of Social Security benefits are includable in gross income for married couples who file separately, and disadvantageous premium surcharge rules for Medicare Part B and Part D premiums apply to spouses filing separately who live together at any time during the year.
Spouses can file a joint return only if:
their tax years begin on the same date
they are married and not legally separated on the last day of the tax year
neither is a nonresident alien during the tax year, unless the nonresident alien is willing to be taxed on his worldwide income and supply all the necessary information to determine tax liability. If a nonresident alien earns a considerable income outside of the United States, then the couple should not file a joint return, since the nonresident’s global income will be subject to United States tax.
A married-filing-separately return can be amended to a joint return by filing Form 1040X, Amended U. S. Individual Income Tax Return within 3 years of the original due date, without extensions, of the separate returns. However, the reverse is not true: separate returns cannot be amended to a joint return unless one spouse is deceased, in which case, the executor of the estate has one year from the due date plus extensions to change a joint filing to a separate filing.
Both spouses must sign a joint return. If a spouse is incapacitated and unable to sign, then the other spouse can sign for the disabled spouse by writing the disabled spouse’s name followed by the words “by (signer’s name), Husband or Wife, whichever the case may be, while supplying the following information:
tax year for the filing
type of form being filed
reason why the other spouse cannot sign, and
the other spouse has consented to the signing
If a spouse is in a combat zone or a qualified hazardous duty area, then the other spouse can sign the joint return for both by simply attaching a signed explanation to the return. If the other spouse is simply unavailable, such as being out of the country, then a spouse can sign for the absent spouse with a power of attorney from the absent spouse: IRS Form 2848, Power Of Attorney and Declaration of Representative may be used for the authorization.
Even if both spouses did not sign the joint return and the signing spouse did not act as an agent for the other spouse, the courts have ruled that such a joint filing will still be valid if:
the other spouse’s income was included in the return
the information provided in the return conforms to the intention that it be a joint return
the other spouse agreed that the filing spouse would handle the tax return, and
the other spouse’s failure to sign can be explained
On the joint return, both spouses have liability for unpaid taxes plus interest and penalties. Joint liability may be avoided under innocent spouse rules if the other spouse is largely responsible for understating tax. If a spouse filed a joint return but is divorced or separated from the other spouse on the joint filing, then the spouse could petition the IRS for separation of liability treatment. A separation of liability request will also be necessary if the correct tax was reported but not paid.
If you suspect that your spouse may be cheating, it may be prudent to file separately, since by doing so, joint-and-several liability for unpaid taxes plus interest and penalties on a joint return will be avoided.
Same-Sex Marriage Is Now Legal in All 50 States
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry”, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country. Henceforth, they will enjoy all of the benefits (and drawbacks) of marriage. Note, however, that registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar relationships that are still recognized under state law, but are not considered marriages under that law, will not be treated as marriages under federal tax law. IRS.gov: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Individuals of the Same Sex Who Are Married Under State Law
If one spouse is a US citizen or resident alien by year-end, and the other spouse is a nonresident alien, then a joint return may be filed by choosing a special election to treat the nonresident alien spouse as a US resident, allowing both spouses to be taxed on their worldwide income. If the nonresident alien becomes a resident during the tax year, and the other spouse is a US citizen, then the special election must be made to file jointly. Records must be maintained on worldwide income that are available for review by the IRS.
The election is made by attaching a signed statement indicating that both spouses agree to be treated as US residents for the year. The election will apply to the tax year for which the return was filed and all later years until it is revoked by either spouse or it is suspended or terminated under IRS rules. The election is suspended if either spouse is not a US resident during the year; the suspension can be ended when either spouse becomes a US resident again. The election can be terminated by the IRS if:
adequate records are not maintained on worldwide income
if the spouses are legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance, or
if 1 of the spouses dies, in which case, if the surviving spouse is a US citizen or resident and has a child, then the surviving spouse can file as a qualifying widow or widower, allowing a joint return to be filed for up to 2 years after the year of death.
If the election is terminated, then neither spouse can ever again file jointly as a couple.
Community Property States
In community property states — Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Alaska, if community property status was selected — all of the income earned by the spouses during their marriage is considered equally earned by each spouse. Spouses can also own separate property, which is property that they acquired before marriage or received as a gift or inheritance. In most community property states, the income produced by separate property is separate income of the spouse that owns the property. However, in Idaho, Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin, the income produced by separate property is considered community property and, thus, must be apportioned half-and-half to each spouse. Note that registered domestic partners in California, Nevada, and Washington are subject to federal income tax community property rules, so even though they are not legally married under state law, they must report half of the combined community property income on their separate returns.
Spouses that file separately must report ½ of their community income and claim ½ of their deductions on their separate returns. So if the wife earns $100,000 and the husband earns $50,000, then each spouse is considered to have earned $75,000, which must be reported on their tax returns. Additionally, Form 8958, Allocation of Tax Amounts Between Certain Individuals in Community Property States must be filed to show the allocation between community income and deductions and separate income and deductions.
After the death of a spouse, any income earned by a surviving spouse is treated as separate income, but any income earned from community property is still subject to the community property rules.
If the couple is separated, then community income rules may not apply, since it may be difficult for 1 spouse to know the income of the other. In these cases, income will be attributed to the one that actually earns it if the following conditions apply:
the individuals lived apart for the entire year; and
they did not file a joint return.
Innocent spouse rules apply to community property, where a spouse filing a separate return may be relieved of tax liability on community income attributed to the other spouse if the taxpayer could not have reasonably been expected to know about the community income earned by the other spouse. However, innocent spouse rules do not apply if the spouses lived apart for the entire tax year and file separate returns, since community property rules will not apply, so they will only be reporting their own income.
When a married couple moves from a common law state to a community property state, separate property remains separate property, but any subsequent earned income or property bought with such income is treated as community property. After moving from a community property state to a common-law state, community property continues to be treated as such until it is sold or reinvested, whence it is treated as separate property.
The Divorce process is a stressful process that can easily bring out the worst in people. Some people even see divorce as a way to seek revenge on a spouse by seizing money and assets.
Although divorce can get you out of an unhappy marriage, it can also milk you for all you are worth if you don’t know your rights. Check out these 40 secrets from top divorce attorneys to help you protect your assets and stay on the winning side.
1. Don’t Let Emotions Lead Your Financial Decisions
People often want to take out their hurt feelings on their exes; however, it’s important not to let emotions interfere with the business at hand. In the long run, being spiteful could harm your own finances.
“Asking your lawyer to write a letter to your ex over who gets the $50 coffee table book is kind of nonsensical,” said Brendan Lyle, a former divorce attorney and CEO at BBL Churchill, a divorce finance firm. He went on to reveal that a short letter could cost you $500 in attorney fees.
2. Everything Is Divisible and Is Fair Game
Individuals often make the mistake of assuming that assets that are in their names can’t be claimed by spouses in a divorce. However, divorce experts caution that the opposite is true.
“Practically everything is divisible, including frequent flyer air miles or royalties from a book you wrote,” said Ann Narris, a Massachusetts attorney with the Narris Law Office & Family Mediation Partners.
Because the same holds true for liabilities like debt and credit cards, couples should be sure to consider all factors when doing their financial planning.
3. Make Big Purchases Before Filing for Divorce
Have a big purchase in mind, such as a new car?
“Most states issue automatic financial restraining orders prohibiting people from making big purchases or liquidating assets after the divorce is filed, absent a court order or an agreement,” said Narris.
In her practice, she advises those considering divorce to buy big items before filing.
4. Keep Track of Your Spouse’s Money
If you’re thinking of filing for divorce or legal separation, it’s a good idea to take a look at your spouse’s financial situation. According to Narris, spouses should start by tracking the partner’s new credit card and loan applications.
“People are more generous in their income reporting on credit or loan applications than they are in, say, their 1040,” said Narris, who went on to stress that loan applications could be crucial parts of a divorce discovery.
5. Gather Key Evidence Before Filing for Divorce
If you’re thinking of filing for divorce, it can be tough not to walk out the door when your spouse pushes your buttons. However, Narris recommended that individuals take time to collect evidence before a split. Along with taking pictures of assets, individuals should make copies of account statements and jot down any important numbers. Preparation is key if you hope to come out ahead in court.
6. Get Property Valued Before You Part Ways
When it comes to the divorce process, almost all property is fair game. However, spouses can’t hope to get their fair shares if they don’t know the value of assets.
“No sense in guessing on the worth of his baseball cards or your engagement ring — never mind a house or a business,” said Narris, who reminds couples that there are experts available who can appraise just about anything.
Doing your homework now is the best way to come out ahead down the line.
7. Don’t Hide Assets
You can try to deceive your spouse by hiding or concealing assets, but don’t forget that you’re also messing with the law. According to Narris, if what you’re hiding is discovered, you’ll lose your credibility in court. There could also be stiff penalties, including monetary sanctions. To protect yourself and your property during a divorce, it’s best to declare all assets upfront in the divorce process.
8. You Can Write Off Alimony Payments on Your Taxes
People who pay alimony are rarely grateful for the opportunity. Paying alimony can actually help you out come tax time, however. According to Narris, people who pay alimony to their exes can write it off as a tax deduction. On the other hand, those who receive alimony must report it as taxable income.
It’s important to note that alimony is different from child support, which is neither taxable nor deductible.
9. If Not Considered Alimony, the Income Is Not Taxable
If the transfer of money in a divorce is not considered alimony, the receiving spouse is in luck: These funds aren’t regarded as taxable income, according to Christian Denmon, founding partner of Denmon & Denmon, a personal injury, divorce and criminal defense law firm in Tampa, Fla.
Not so lucky is the payer, as there is no tax break for money transferred during the divorce process.
10. There Are Hidden Tax Implications to Watch Out For
During a divorce, it’s important to stay alert to hidden tax obligations.
“A husband might have purchased stock for $50 during the marriage,” said Denmon. “The stock has gone up in value so that at the time of the divorce, the husband ends up transferring $75 to the wife. If not otherwise addressed in the divorce settlement, the husband will be on the hook to pay taxes on the $25 gain on the stock.”
According to Denmon, spouses who are receiving real estate, stocks or bonds need to understand that taxable gains can leave them vulnerable.
11. Get Job Training or Update Your Education Before Filing
If you are currently being supported by your spouse, you might want to consider taking the time to dust off your resume and freshen up your skill set before seeking a divorce.
“Even if you receive support, the courts can impute income and expect you to be working if your kids are school aged and you are not of retirement age or disabled,” said Narris, who cautioned against “depend[ing] too much on a hopeful spousal support award.”
Updating your education now can help protect you later if things don’t go your way in court.
12. Familiarize Yourself With Your Finances Before You Split
Normally, one person in a household manages the finances. However, this arrangement can create a “power imbalance when it comes time to negotiate settlements,” according to Narris. So what can you do to protect yourself?
Seek professional help to guide you in making more informed decisions about finances being filing for divorce. Doing this will help you come out swinging when you get your day in court.
13. Consider Mediating Your Divorce
It’s no secret that divorce can be expensive. In fact, according to Narris, the average cost of legal fees in a divorce is $15,000. One way to cut down on these expenses is to use a mediator.
A mediator doesn’t work on behalf of any one party, just facilitates agreements. If you want to keep your divorce details behind closed doors while cutting costs, a mediator might be the best bet for both you and your bank account.
14. Know What Is Your Biggest Asset
According to Narris, many people mistakenly believe that their house is their biggest asset when it is actually a retirement or pension account. Even if your retirement account is less than robust now, the court will likely consider its future value when dividing assets.
“There are many ways to divide your portion of your spouse’s retirement asset (called a qualified domestic relations order) so give that due consideration,” said Narris.
15. If Your Lawyer Recommends a PI or Forensic Accountant, Hire One
Many individuals are hesitant to shell out for a private investigator or forensic accountant when going through a divorce, but sometimes, these professionals’ services are necessary.
According to Eva Cockerham, an attorney with Burke Jaskot law firm in Baltimore, “Private investigators are useful for investigating people who own small businesses, as independent data about numbers of customers, employees and resources can give a much fuller picture of a person’s true finances.”
Likewise, Cockerham noted that forensic accountants can give “insight as to whether a person going through a divorce is getting accurate information from their soon to be ex-spouse.” By spending a little now, you might be able to save yourself a bundle in the future.
16. The Most Expensive Lawyer Isn’t Always the Best
Pick your divorce lawyer wisely because your choice could save your bottom line.
“Find one that is experienced and knowledgeable but is also a good fit for you,” said Narris. “You have the power to set the tone for your divorce. The attorney should advise you but also respect your position on how to approach the negotiations.”
Just because an attorney has a high hourly rate doesn’t necessarily mean he or she will honor your wishes. For best results, go with your gut feeling.
17. Understand Debt Obligations
According to Heather Sunderman, a divorce attorney with Mirsky Policastri in the Washington, D.C. area, too many clients assume partners’ debts are joint when they’re not.
“Some states do not divide marital debt if it’s just in one person’s name, so if possible, during separation you may want to pay down that debt preferentially,” said Sunderman.
The last thing you want is to be on the hook for debts you didn’t accumulate.
18. Don’t Forget About Beneficiary Designations
Divorce attorneys note that many clients fail to remove former spouses from their beneficiary designations.
If you fail to remove these designations, “those amounts may end up being paid out to a former spouse,” said Sunderman. “Usually that’s not the result you want.”
For best results, handle beneficiary designations and other tedious paperwork as soon as possible.
19. Pay Court-Ordered Attorney Fees
Court-ordered attorney fees are no joke.
“The court can order one spouse to contribute to the other spouse’s attorney fees,” said Denmon, who went on to explain that this type of debt was treated in a special manner. When it comes to court-ordered attorney fees, the judge can throw the offending spouse in jail for failing to pay.
In light of these regulations, Denmon advises that spouses who are receiving financial help have language drafted into agreements clarifying how much money must be paid and by what date. Doing this gives spouses the ability “to enforce the agreement should the paying spouse fail to follow through with his agreement,” said Denmon.
20. Consider Your Income Before Asking for All the Deductible Items
Clients typically strive to get as much as possible in a divorce. However, according Russell Luna, a certified divorce financial analyst in Colorado, higher incomes can disqualify individuals from important tax deductions.
“If you file single and make more than $380,750, your personal exemption of $4,000 is not available,” said Luna.
In light of this fact, individuals might not want all the items they originally requested in a divorce. For best results, speak to a financial professional about your specific fiscal situation and options.
21. Take Advantage of Free Legal Advice
Most attorneys will offer free consultations, said Narris, who advises clients to “take advantage of that and get some basic information, see if the lawyer is the right fit.”
To ensure you make the right choice, be sure to consult with a few attorneys before coming to a hiring decision. After all, the outcome of your divorce depends in large part on the quality of your legal advice.
22. Be Mindful of the Date When Initiating Divorce
While you might be tempted to file as soon as possible, it’s important to note that property division is based on the date of marriage separation in some states. Typically, the court uses a formal date of separation (DOS) to determine property division and the value of certain assets.
“If you are expecting a large increase in the value of a major asset upon a certain occasion, be mindful of that when you decide to initiate the divorce,” said Narris.
23. Design a Joint Parenting Arrangement Wisely
Unlike claiming a child as a tax dependent, claiming head of household is not assignable, said Narris, who went on to explain that individuals either met the criteria or did not.
If you’re negotiating who will claim a child as a dependent, Narris said, “You can include a provision that the right to claim the child is dependent on the parent being up to date on their support obligation.”
24. Plan Finances for After the Divorce
Clients often neglect to consider how their financial planning can change after a divorce.
“Your risk aversion may be very different than your former spouse[‘s] and you do not need to keep the same investment trajectory you had before the divorce,” said Narris.
If you don’t know where to begin, you might want to hire a financial advisor. Remember to think long term when planning finances after divorce.
25. Have a Paper Trail
While most assets are divisible in divorce, there are some exceptions to the rule. Documents can help preserve what you believe to be separate property when it comes to divorce proceedings and should be collected beforehand.
“Too many times the necessary documents seem to disappear after a divorce starts, so to the highest degree possible, gather those documents before you start the divorce,” said Jeff Anderson, a Dallas family law attorney.
26. The Division of Property Can Be Complex
Dividing assets and properties isn’t always a simple numerical transaction.
“Negotiating the division of property is an art form all its own,” said Keith Nelson, a family law attorney with Orsinger, Nelson, Downing and Anderson, LLP in Dallas. “It’s a three-step process: Characterize the asset, value it, divide it.”
After the asset is identified as community property, separate property or both, figuring out the value can be tricky. “For instance, a bank account with cash in it is pretty easy to value — look at the balance,” said Nelson. “But a retirement account, a house or securities can have more complex issues.”
27. Retirement Accounts Are Not Worth the Statement Balance
Just as it can be difficult to value assets, couples often struggle to determine the true value of their retirement accounts. One reason that retirement accounts pose problems is that deferred tax will have to be paid at some point. In light of this fact, Nelson cautions clients that retirement accounts might be worth even less than the balance minus tax.
“If one of the parties will be liquidating a retirement account early, then the highest marginal tax rate and the early withdrawal penalty might need to be subtracted from the value of the account,” said Nelson, who went on to explain that the value of these assets is often drastically reduced as a result.
According to Nelson, “Even if the account is not going to be liquidated, the taxes which will be paid on the money at the time of retirement can be considered and a reduction of the overall value of the asset might [be], and very often is, appropriate.”
28. ‘Division of Property’ Depends on Where You Live
When a divorcing couple heads to court for a property dispute, state law is used to divide the property using one of two classifications: community property or equitable distribution. With community property, both spouses own income and assets equally, and items can be divided evenly. Additionally, individuals can keep separate property.
According to NOLO, a legal advice website, community property applies to the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin as well as Puerto Rico. Every other state uses equitable distribution, which involves “fairly” divvying up assets and money accrued during marriage. Knowing the law of the land can help you avoid surprises during your divorce proceedings.
29. Some States Are Better for Getting a Divorce
According to the government research site InsideGov, the five states with the easiest and most lenient divorce laws are Alaska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa and Washington. The ease of filing, fees and processing times are all considered as part of the rankings. If time and cost are of the essence, you might want to consider where you live before filing divorce papers.
30. Be Mindful of the Worst States for Divorce
Based off InsideGov’s data, the most difficult states to get a divorce include Arkansas, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Vermont. Arkansas takes the longest amount of time at 540 days. If you live in one of these states, you and your spouse might want to consider relocating to expedite the divorce process.
31. When in Doubt, Seek a Professional — Or It May Cost You
Todd Huettner, president of the residential and commercial real estate mortgage bank Huettner Capital and a financial analyst who has helped many individuals dealing with divorce, advises clients to seek professional help at all costs.
“A simple mistake that drops your credit score 40 points can cost you thousands on your next mortgage,” said Huettner. “Making a mistake separating accounts, renaming beneficiaries or not setting up life insurance properly can cost you hundreds of thousands and impact you for years.”
32. Make Sure You Actually Implement the Divorce
Despite their eagerness to be divorced, many people actually fail to complete all the steps needed to make their divorces legal, according to Huettner. For the best results, clients should make sure all their bases are covered and check up on spouses to ensure they have completed the necessary steps.
“You don’t want to find out that your ex-spouse never refinanced the house five years ago like he was supposed to and [it’s] now in foreclosure,” said Huettner. “By the time you find out about it, your credit will be destroyed for years.”
33. Compromise Could Help You
You win some, you lose some, right? Unfortunately, divorcing spouses often refrain from compromising out of spite.
While you might be tempted to fight every battle that comes your way, agreeing to compromises could save you a lot of headaches and money on legal fees when going through a divorce. As an added bonus, your decision to compromise could encourage your spouse to do the same.
34. Don’t Forget About Health Insurance
Although federal law might dictate that you have health insurance access under your former spouse, Narris cautions clients against relying on COBRA coverage long term due to the high cost.
Her advice: “Start doing legwork for available options that may be less expensive. Better yet, find a job for yourself that has benefits.”
35. Belts Are Always Tightened During a Divorce
While individuals tend to factor the price of getting divorced into their budgets, they don’t always consider other everyday expenses incurred during the process.
Narris recommends that clients carve out a little extra money to care for their personal needs during this difficult time. “Factor in a gym membership, therapy co-payments, massages,” said Narris. “You will want to be as healthy as you can to help your kids through the process, and you never know when you may have a bad day.”
36. Take Action but Be Wary
Savvy divorce attorneys advise their clients to be cautious when filing for divorce.
According to Luna, it’s important to make sure you have the current statement for your spouse’s brokerage account before announcing and filing for the divorce. After all, a deceitful spouse could very easily liquidate the account with no paper trail by neglecting to cash checks until later. The last thing you want is to find out your spouse set up a new account after the divorce settlement while leaving the current brokerage statement with a zero balance.
37. Avoid Underestimating Living Expenses
You need to know what your spouse earns monthly, as well as where the money goes. According to a Divorcenet.com article, when considering the cost of future living expenses, it’s important to take into account the effect of inflation.
Narris recommended keeping receipts so you have a good idea of what everything actually costs. Doing this will help you maintain quality of life after a divorce.
38. Don’t Let Emotions Get in the Way of Selling the Family Home
Whether you have an emotional attachment to your family home or are just being vindictive toward your former spouse, be sure you’re thinking wisely about your decisions with regard to shared property. You don’t want to discover later that you gave up other assets just to keep a home in which you can’t afford to live.
39. Know What You Value
When contemplating divorce, it’s important to consider what assets you value most and be prepared to let some things go.
“A major mistake in divorce that everyone can get trapped into is spending hundreds or thousands of dollars fighting for something that you don’t even want,” said Narris.
Take your time so you can make the most rational and intelligent decisions.
40. Dress Appropriately for Court
It might seem like a small matter, but buying nice clothes for court can boost one’s confidence.
“You will feel better and likely fair better with the judge,” said Narris.
Of course, clients should remember to keep it professional and avoid dressing in a manner that’s flashy or overly pompous. Play it safe by keeping clothing neutral and accessories to a minimum.
It’s important to remember that divorce law varies by state, and some of these tips might not be applicable in your region. Be sure to find a divorce attorney in your area to advise you on how to get a divorce. Doing this will help protect your assets and property while ensuring the divorce process goes as smoothly as it possibly can.
Did you know that, in America, there is one divorce about every 36 seconds? That’s nearly 2,400 divorces per day, 16,800 divorces per week and 876,000 divorces per year.
With tax season upon us, that means approximately 876,000 people are newly navigating the realm of post-divorce taxes. Taxes are complicated enough as it is, but when you add in assets, dependents, alimony, child support and other freshly split obligations, filing can be downright daunting.
Here, the five most important things to keep in mind when facing this new challenge.
1. Marital status is set as of Dec. 31, not April 15
If your divorce was finalized after Jan. 1 but before you filed your taxes, you are still officially married as far as your 2014 taxes are concerned. In other words, your marital status as of Dec. 31 determines your filing status for that entire calendar year.
Although you cannot file jointly, you may be able to file as a head of household, depending on particular qualifiers such as length of cohabitation, cost of home upkeep, et cetera.
2. Home is where the taxes are
Upside: You don’t have to pay taxes on transferred property in a divorce, and if you’re retaining the residence, you can claim the mortgage interest deduction.
Downside: Now that you’re single, capital gains exclusion laws work less to your advantage. As a result, if you eventually decide to sell your home, your profit from the sale may be significantly reduced.
3. Alimony is tax deductible, with some caveats
In most cases, alimony is tax deductible for the party paying it; in fact, it’s an above-the-line deduction, meaning it does not need to be represented as an itemized claim. However, a few conditions should be kept in mind:
Alimony payments made while both parents of the child are still living together are not tax deductible.
While cash, checks and money orders meet alimony standards, property contributions do not.
4. Custodians clean up on tax returns
Modern custodial agreements rarely designate a sole custodian, which makes taxes a little more difficult. Typically, the custodial parent is considered, by default, the parent who has physical custody for most of the year. However, many couples now alternate who claims custody each year in order to share the tax benefit.
Also, keep in mind that child support is always tax-neutral, which means that even if you’re paying it, it is not tax deductible in any way.
There’s one little loophole, however. If you continue to pay a child’s medical bills, even without custody, those costs can be included as a medical expense deduction.
5. Be careful with your 401(k)
Your retirement should be handled with the same care it took to earn it. Cashing out a 401(k) to use in a settlement is subject to taxes; however, this tax trap can be avoided if the transfer is done under a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO. A QDRO grants your ex-spouse the right to the funds without the imposition of taxes.
As always, if you have any doubts about how to file your taxes due to a divorce, contact your attorney and your accountant. They are best qualified to give advice for your unique situation.
Filing taxes during or after a divorce can be more complicated than expected for the parties. It is important to understand a variety of tax issues unique to divorcing parties in order to avoid unexpected short- and long-term issues.
In Part One of this article, we introduced some of the most common tax issues facing individuals during and after divorce. Here we offer several more things you must know when going through a marital dissolution action.
The Filing Status to Use While the Divorce is Pending
Many people inaccurately believe that once a divorce is filed, they are no longer entitled to file as “Married Filing Jointly.” This it not true. IRS code allows a taxpayer who is married on the last day of the calendar year to file as either Married Filing Jointly, Married Filing Separately or, in some cases, Head of Household.
The IRS makes no distinction for people going through a divorce in any given year. Even if the final court date is scheduled for January 2 of the following year, so long as the parties are still legally married (with no legally binding divorce decree or separation maintenance order in place) on December 31 of the current year, they are entitled to file as Married Filing Jointly. This can be beneficial, as most married couples enjoy greater tax benefits when filing under this status. At the very least, this will shave off a bit of tax liability for the current tax year.
Some Legal Fees Can Be Deducted
One of the most common questions asked by divorcing parties is whether they can deduct their legal fees on their tax return. Unfortunately, while the IRS does allow for the deduction of legal fees related to tax advice from your divorce lawyer, the balance of his or fees is non-deductible. For this reason, it is critical to ensure your divorce lawyer prepares an itemized invoice, as it is your responsibility to provide support for any deductions you take.
How the Property Division Can Impact Taxes
For most divorcing couples, the majority of their marital estate is comprised of retirement accounts. In most cases a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is required to effectively divide these assets. However, there are tax consequences for a spouse receiving a share of the other spouse’s retirement accounts. It is important to fully discuss the potential tax liability – and ways to avoid them – with your divorce attorney or financial planner.
To learn more about divorce tax filing please contact our office.
As if divorce doesn’t cause enough emotional and financial turmoil, every person going through a divorce must also consider a variety of tax issues that arise once a marriage ends. Many of these issues can catch a divorcing spouse off guard. It is important to understand these tax pitfalls in order to make sound decisions and avoid unnecessary troubles down the road.
Alimony is Taxable to the Recipient
With some exceptions, spousal support paid by one party to the other is usually considered a taxable event for both. This is crucial to understand because it causes a tax liability for the payee spouse and a tax credit for the payor spouse.
The IRS sets forth specific criteria in order for a payment between spouses to qualify as alimony:
The spouses do not file a joint tax return with each other
The payor spouse pays in cash (including checks, bank transfers or money orders)
The payment is received by (or on behalf of) the payee spouse
The divorce or separate maintenance decree does not state that the payment is not alimony
If legally separated, the former spouses are not members of the same household when the payment is made
There is no liability to make payments after the death of the payee spouse
The payment is not treated as child support or part of a property settlement
Who Gets the Dependency Exemption for the Minor Child
The IRS presumes that the custodial parent will receive the dependency exemption for any minor children of the divorcing couple. A custodial parent is defined as the parent who has the minor children for the greater portion of the calendar year. This presumption can create a situation where one parent always gets the deduction, year after year, providing significant tax savings to him or her.
However, the dependency exemption can be allocated by agreement of the parties or by court order. In such cases, the parent relinquishing the dependency exemption is required to sign IRS form 8332, which is then attached to the non-custodial parent’s tax return in each year that he or she claims the exemption.