(Corrects to say custodial parent must sign Form 8332 in 8th
paragraph instead of must be signed by the non-custodial parent)
By Lauren Young
NEW YORK, April 10 "Conscious uncoupling" might
become all the rage now that actress Gwyneth Paltrow and
musician Chris Martin have announced they are separating in a
cooperative and respectful way. But there is nothing touchy
feely about divorce in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service.
In fact, filing taxes after you divorce, or even separate,
may be trickier than when you were together. And, as if to add
insult to the emotional injury of ending a marriage, your first
"uncoupled" tax bill might deliver a major financial blow.
That's because receiving alimony, dividing up property and
other assets "can become complicated very quickly," says
Michelle Crosby, co-founder and chief executive officer of
Wevorce, an online, fee-based service to help couples divorce
"The biggest taxable events are not necessarily part of the
divorce process, but play out afterward," adds Roy Nelson, who
holds the lofty title of fiscal architect in addition to
certified public accountant at Wevorce.
I got divorced last year after 10 years of marriage. My ex-
and I always did our taxes together. As a new member of the
First Wives Club, I treated this year's tax return as my own
personal finance experiment using software from TurboTax, which
is a unit of Intuit.
Here is what I learned:
WHO CLAIMS THE KIDS?
Be careful about who claims the children as dependents to
get a valuable tax deduction. Prior to 2009, you could specify
in a divorce decree which parent could claim the dependency
But you can no longer use a divorce settlement agreement to
back up your claim of dependency. Instead, you have to use IRS
Form 8332, eloquently titled "Release/Revocation of Release of
Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent," and it must
be signed by the custodial parent for use by the non-custodial
The tax implications are significant: for each dependent,
you can deduct $3,900 from your federal taxable income, which is
likely to reduce your taxes. (As a reminder, a tax deduction is
something that reduces the taxable income you claim on your
return. A tax credit directly cuts how much tax you owe.)
Each qualifying child must live with you more than half of
the year and be under the age of 19 at year-end. This exemption
also applies if your child is under 24 and a full-time student
for the year - defined as attending school for at least part of
five calendar months during the year.
Some parents alternate who gets to claim dependency from
year to year. For me and my ex, this one was a no-brainer. While
married, our combined salaries pushed us into a parallel tax
universe that required us to pay the dreaded Alternative Minimum
Tax (AMT), eliminating many valuable breaks such as the
Post-divorce, my ex-husband still has a hefty AMT tab to
pay. Since I'm only taxed on my salary (insert journalist joke
here), it makes sense for me to claim our kid as a dependent.
Score one for the divorced mom.
WHAT'S YOUR FILING STATUS?
Here's something that almost tripped me up. I assumed my
former spouse and I would file taxes together because we were
married for part of 2013. I didn't realize that your marital
status at the end of the year determines how you file your tax
"If you're divorced on December 31, you're considered
single," says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant
at TurboTax. You can still file as a couple, even if you are not
living together, but that doesn't always make financial sense.
For example, one spouse may be able to claim head of
household, which can result in a bigger tax savings. To qualify,
you have to live apart for the last six months. You also have to
pay more than half of the costs to support the household. The
other spouse would file as a single taxpayer.
ALIMONY AND CHILD SUPPORT
Some people think they've scored a big win when they get
their ex to cough up alimony. But keep in mind that alimony is
taxable to the recipient.
That's often a big shock when couples untangle. "Even if you
don't feel like you have as much money, you could see a tax jump
with a filing status change after the divorce," Wevorce's Nelson
The person who pays alimony, though, gets to deduct it.
Child support, by contrast, is not taxable to the recipient, and
it's not deductible for the person paying it.
DIVISION OF ASSETS
Remember the movie "The War of the Roses," in which a house
literally destroys a marriage? Well, your matrimonial home can
also decimate your tax bill if you decide to sell it.
That's because married couples can realize up to a $500,000
gain on their principal residence. "But now that you're single,
it's cut in half" to $250,000, says TurboTax's Greene-Lewis.
On the flip side, the person who retains the home may be use
one of the most popular tax credits - the mortgage interest
deduction. Part of your monthly mortgage payment goes to pay
down the principal on the loan and part of it covers the
interest you pay on the mortgage. In general, that mortgage
interest is tax deductible.
In short, because people's financial situations are so
unique, divorce may or may not work in your favor when it comes
to the tax bill. "Some people are really happy and some people
are not so happy," says Nelson.
As for me, I'm in the happy camp. For the first time in 10
years, I'm getting a refund.
(Follow us @ReutersMoney or here;
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler)