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.
See Part II of this article.