This recent article from The Oklahoman revisits some of the tax issues arising from divorce cases. According to the article and to my surprise, there are many divorcing spouses that do not realize that periodic alimony is included as income for tax purposes (don’t there lawyers explain this to them?). So, because taxes are not withheld, they are surprised in April to find out they owe taxes on all of the alimony received in a given year. The percentage will obviously depend on the recipient’s tax bracket.

My suggestion is to take 25% – 30% of each alimony check received and put it in a separate “tax account” to be used only at tax time to pay this obligation. I also recommend considering an ING Direct online account for this purpose. This account is currently paying 4% APR, which is better than most bank checking or savings accounts, and the money is liquid. Additionally, you link the ING account with your normal checking account and it is easy to make transactions into and out of the account online.

Also remember that if you want more in depth information, go to www.irs.gov and download publication 504, the tax guide for Divorced and Separated Individuals. Or you can access a pdf version here.

If you have any questions about the implications your divorce case will have on your tax situation, discuss it with your CPA or tax planner. The time to have that conversation is before the divorce is finalized.

A March 15, 2006, Wall Street Journal article points out the difficulty that spouses and former spouses are having in seeking Innocent Spouse Relief from the IRS. When you sign a joint income tax return with your spouse, you and your spouse are jointly responsible for the taxes, interest or penalties on those returns unless you qualify for innocent spouse relief. That means that under most circumstances, the IRS can collect the entire amount owed from either party.

When you claim the “innocent spouse” defense, you argue that you did not know and had no reason to know about any under reporting of income or other wrongdoing associated with the filing of the return and that therefore you should not be held responsible for paying any additional taxes, penalties or interest due.

According to the article the IRS has taken a renewed interest in enforcement, due in part to growing concern of the budget deficit. The article sites a recent report that states that of the nearly 50,000 innocent spouse claims received by the IRS in 2005, only 21% were allowed in full and another 8% were partially allowed.

The moral to the story: if you have even a hint of impropriety, do not sign a joint return. As a divorce lawyer, I would also add that if a divorce is imminent then before signing a joint return, talk to your lawyer about the implications first.

Note: I would link to the Wall Street Journal story but it is not available on wsj.com without a subscription. If you are a subscriber and have acces to the Journal online, you can go to the above link and do an article search for “Innocence in Tax Fraud” and it will pull up the article.

Also, you can download the IRS publication describing and explaining Innocent Spouse Relief here.

Jim Jeffries | Mobile & Baldwin County Attorney

Jim currently is a member of the Alabama Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Child Support Guidelines and Enforcement as well as a statewide committee that has been tasked with reviewing and making recommendations for possible revisions to Alabama's version of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). Jim was also recently appointed by the President of the Alabama State Bar Association to a serve on a committee whose purpose is to review and comment on Alabama legislation regarding joint custody for a proposal to the Alabama Legislature for possible changes in this legislation.

Jim has attained a Peer Review Ranking of AV from Martindale-Hubbell® - The highest an attorney can be ranked by his peers.

He continues to lecture to attorneys across the state regarding family law issues.

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Jeffries Family Law, LLC

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