This episode will explain why most of you will want to finalize your divorce in 2018, if possible. After 2018, divorce will be even more complicated than it already is. You probably already want an efficient divorce process, but the recent changes to tax law will provide some additional incentive to move things along.
The change in tax law primarily concerns spousal support. Taxes are not a fun topic, but they are critically important to understand so you can make the best decisions for your situation. How you structure your divorce settlement can ultimately get you 20% to 50% more money and assets. For more about taxes and divorce, visit our archive.
To understand what is changing this year, we first need to understand how spousal support has worked for the past 75 years. Currently, if you receive alimony, you claim it as income and pay taxes on it. The person who pays alimony receives a tax deduction for the amount of the alimony.
For divorces that are finalized after December 31, 2018, the person who receives alimony will not count it as income. The person who pays the alimony will not receive a tax deduction. Why is this such a big deal? If you are the person paying spousal support, you get no tax benefit for paying the support, so you have an incentive to pay less. People who will receive support will probably be getting less.
These changes came from the tax bill that was passed at the end of 2017. If you can wrap up your divorce in 2018, you will not have to worry about it. However, if your divorce is not finalized until 2019, you will be affected by this change. If you are paying support, finalizing in 2018 will give you tax benefits. If you are receiving spousal support, you are highly likely to get more support if you finalize this year.
Who receives spousal support today? In a recent census, it was found that about 97% of people receiving spousal support are women. Most of them were stay-at-home parents during the marriage, or they worked fewer hours than their husbands. Although there are many female breadwinners, women are going to be affected greatly by this law.
What are your options if you find yourself in this situation? You can often come up with clever, creative solutions that will work for everyone. Here is a simple example. If you know that you will probably receive less spousal support for the foreseeable future, you can structure your settlement so that you get more money up front as a lump sum. This can help make up for the tax benefits that you will not be receiving. Look for ways to structure your settlement that will benefit you in the long term.
Many people wonder why this law is changing. There is a good reason for it. In 2017, about 350,000 people claimed they were paying spousal support, and received a tax break. However, only about 180,000 people said they were receiving spousal support (and paid taxes on that spousal support). This means there are 170,000 people who received spousal support who did not report it to the IRS. That adds up to billions of dollars of lost tax revenue.
In future episodes, we will discuss more details about taxes and how to structure your settlement. There is no need to panic, but it’s important to understand how this change will affect you in the broader context of your divorce negotiations. If you understand that you will be losing money because of the change in tax law, you can look for ways to make up for it.