Will Tax Reform Expedite Divorces in 2018? How can Couples be Prepared? by Sandra Perez, CPA/ABV/CFF, CFE
Posted on March 22, 2018 by Sandra Perez
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that the president signed into law in December 2017 calls for the elimination of tax deductions for alimony payments made to a former spouse beginning on Jan. 1, 2019. Similarly, alimony recipients will no longer be required to include those payments as taxable income on their annual tax return filings. The law applies to divorce and legal separation agreements executed after Dec. 31, 2018. Taxpayers with alimony orders in place prior to Dec. 31, 2018, will not be affected, and payors will continue to receive preferential tax treatment for the spousal support they pay. However, it is important to note that the alimony provisions of the TCJA will apply to future modifications of support orders in place prior to Dec. 31, 2018.
The TCJA upends settlement strategies in divorces. Because the individual who pays alimony is traditionally in a higher tax bracket than the alimony recipient, the tax savings on the payor’s deduction is currently worth more than the amount of tax paid by the recipient. Essentially, because each dollar of alimony paid to a recipient costs less to the payor, the payor could afford to pay more in alimony. The elimination of the alimony deduction beginning in 2019, reduces the overall dollars a family has to divide.
This TCJA’s repeal of the alimony tax deduction combined with the law’s temporary through 2025 repeal of dependency exemptions and increase in standard deduction will eliminate the need for divorcing couples to argue over who may claim a dependent child as a deduction in future years. However, it is possible that the new law’s treatment of spousal support will create a sense of urgency for couples, especially high-earning spouses, to expedite a divorce in 2018 and take advantage of the tax break under current law.
As the government works to develop guidance for applying the new tax law, couples considering a divorce should recognize that the entirety of the law is subject to modification and even repeal under a new presidential administration or a change in the congressional majority. As a result, it behooves taxpayers to consult with professional advisors to understand the law in its current state and address in divorce settlements any potential changes that may impact former spouses’ future income and tax liabilities.
About the Author: Sandra Perez, CPA/ABV/CFF, CFE, is director of the Family Law Forensics practice with Berkowitz Pollack Brant, where she works with attorneys and high-net-worth individuals with complex assets to prepare financial affidavits, value business interests, analyze income and net-worth analysis and calculate alimony and child support obligations in all areas of divorce proceedings. She can be reached in the CPA firm’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla., office at (954) 712-7000 or via email email@example.com.
Information contained in this article is subject to change based on further interpretation of the law and subsequent guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service.