What Divorce or Separation Means for Your Tax Return

Tax season can be frustrating for those who are divorced, in the process of divorce, or separated. While your divorce ends your legal marriage to your partner, it does not nullify the obligation you and your partner share in paying your federal income taxes.

Even if you believe that your situation is simple, you could unknowingly fill out the wrong form with incorrect information, which could end up delaying your return, causing you to owe additional money to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or even triggering an IRS audit. If you are divorced, separated, or planning on becoming divorced or separated, it is important to understand how a change in your marital status can affect your tax return.

When am I Considered “Married?”

While it may seem clear when a person is “married” and when they are not, it is not necessarily as simple when it comes to filing federal taxes. Under IRS regulation, you and your partner are still married if your divorce or legal separation is not finalized before December 31.

So, if your divorce or legal separation is finalized January 1, you are still married under IRS regulation for the purposes of the past year’s taxes. If your divorce or separation is finalized December 31, you will be considered ‘unmarried’ for that year and may file taxes as a single individual.

IRS tax code also considers a couple married even if they live separately. Unless you are legally separated, you must file taxes as a couple. If you do not have a court order verifying your divorce or separation before December 31, your taxes must still be filed as a married couple.

What Form Should I File?

If you and your partner no longer live together, you have the option of filing a joint married return or a separated married return. If you file taxes with your spouse and they do not pay their fair portion, you remain responsible for any taxes they did not pay.

It is important to talk to your spouse about what option is in both of your best interests. If you believe your spouse may not pay their portion of jointly filed taxes, it may be beneficial to file separately.

Who Claims the Kids?

IRS regulations state that only one parent can claim custody of a child from that marriage on their tax return each given year. If you have more than one child, you might claim one and your spouse could claim the other. This is a common arrangement for separated or divorced parents. However, if you only have a single child or an odd number of children, it may be difficult to determine who should claim which child on when filing separately.

The IRS has tiebreaker rules for parents who cannot decide how to split children for tax purposes. The parent who has the child the most during the filing year—typically the custodial parent—has the right to claim the child as a dependent. For your child to qualify as a dependent on your tax return, they must live with you for more than half of that year.

If you have a more complex situation with your childcare or dependents, it is important to consult the IRS guidelines. There are statements regarding parents who equally split time with the child which involve adjusted gross income and other variables that may influence how claiming dependents might be settled.

How Could an Attorney Help?

The best thing you could do if you have any questions surrounding your tax return is to consult an experienced divorce attorney. The lawyers at Moskowitz Law Group have extensive knowledge of how a divorce or separation can affect filing taxes with the IRS. If you are worried about your tax return, it may be beneficial to discuss your concerns with a compassionate legal advocate.

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