by Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP®, CDFA™
Divorce is difficult enough. What could add to the anxiety that divorce brings? Taxes. If you are one of the many people who recently divorced, this year, as a result you will be
coping with new tax issues, and may even be filing your own tax return for the first time. Here are ten tips to help you handle tax issues now that you are divorced.
- Determine your filing status. Your marital status at the end of the year determines how you file your tax return. If you were divorced by midnight on December 31 of the tax year, you will file separately from your former spouse. If you are the custodial parent for your children, you may qualify for the favorable head of household status. If not, then you will file as a single taxpayer, even if you were married for part of the tax year. If you aren’t sure what would be better, you can ask your tax professional to project your taxes both ways to see.
- Consider the tax implications of support. Child support is not deductible to the person who pays it, but alimony is. Likewise, the recipient of alimony must claim it on her tax return, but child support isn’t reported as income. If you rolled your support together into “family support” in your agreement, that makes it fully taxable to the recipient and deductible to the payer, just like alimony. That often saves income taxes, though, because more income moves from the payer’s higher tax bracket to the recipient’s lower tax bracket, so there’s more after-tax income for them to split.
- Don’t run afoul of the special rules regarding support. If alimony payments are concentrated in the first year of two after divorce, the IRS may consider the money to be non-deductible property settlement. And if alimony is scheduled to end within six months of a child’s 18th or 21st birthday, the IRS may consider the alimony, in reality, to be disguised child support. Be sure you consult with a knowledgeable tax professional or attorney to review the support portion of your divorce agreement before you sign it.
- Review your divorce decree to see who will claim the children as exemptions. If your divorce agreement does not specify who claims the children as exemptions, then the exemption for your kids goes to the custodial parent. If you have joint custody, the exemption goes to the parent who has the child the greatest number of days during the tax year. You can modify this by making a different provision in your divorce agreement. Again, if you aren’t certain where the exemptions would do the most good, on your tax return or your soon-to-be-ex’s return, see a tax professional and find out.
- Get signed Form 8332 if required. If you are entitled to claim the tax exemption for children who spend less than six months of the year living with you, then you will need your ex-spouse to sign IRS Form 8332 (Release of Claim to Exemption for Child of Divorced or Separated Parents). A copy of this form must be filed with your income tax return for you to claim the tax exemptions for children not living with you. If you are to claim the children year after year, your ex can sign a Form 8332 that grants you the ability to claim them as long as they are eligible dependents.
- File first if exemptions are an issue. If you are entitled to claim the children on your return, but you think your ex may try to claim them instead, file early in the year. That way, since you’ve already claimed the children, the IRS will make your ex prove he or she was entitled to the exemption. It’s rare that this type of disagreement arises after a collaborative divorce, since you make the decision together who should claim them.
- Claim the child care credit if you are eligible. If you are the custodial parent and you incur work-related child care for children under the age of 13, you may be able to claim a credit for a portion of the cost. Unlike the exemption, which can be assigned using IRS Form 8332, the child care credit is available only to the custodial parent.
- Review legal fees paid during your divorce. Although most legal fees are not tax-deductible, fees you paid for advice concerning the tax consequences of your divorce can be taken as an itemized deduction on Schedule A of your tax return, as can fees incurred to obtain alimony. Other fees, such as the cost of preparing a new title for your rental property, can be added to the tax basis of your assets.
- If you are employed, change your withholding on Form W-4. You can claim one additional exemption for every $4,050 of deductions, including alimony payments. If you are receiving alimony, consider asking to have extra tax withheld from your paycheck to cover your new tax liability. If you don’t, you should make estimated tax payments (see #10).
- Make estimated tax payments if withholding isn’t enough. If your withholding won’t be enough to cover your taxes for the coming year, set up quarterly estimated tax payments so that you won’t owe taxes and underpayment penalties at the end of the coming year.
Divorce may not be as inevitable as taxes, but it certainly brings complications to tax filing. Follow these ten tips, and the process should go smoothly in the future.