Understanding the tax code is a full-time job, but it’s imperative that you understand how your divorce decree impacts your tax situation. There are a few main things you should be familiar with as you negotiate.
Tax Filing Status
Your tax filing status is dependent on your marital status on December 31st of each year. If you are mid-divorce you will need to file your taxes as Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separate. If you finalize your divorce on December 30th you will have to file as either Single or Head of Household. Each one of these filing statuses comes with its own breakdown of income for each of the tax brackets and some nuanced rules around credits and deductions allowed and to what level. If you are in the process of getting a divorce and there are children involved, make sure you understand the difference between Head of Household and Single filing status. You can speak with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® for a high-level overview, but your CPA or accountant can guide you in the specifics. As you change tax filing status’ make sure to adjust the withholdings on your paystub by updating your W-4 so that you are withholding the proper amount for taxes.
There are a few important tax credits to highlight in divorce, especially for the 2021 tax year. The Child Tax Credit and Child and Dependent Care Credit are two credits that often come up in divorce if children from the marriage are involved. Typically, the primary parent, usually the one claiming Head of Household, would claim both credits if they qualify however the non-custodial parents (or the one that has the child(ren) less time) could negotiate that the child tax credit be transferred or alternate. Why is this valuable? A credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your tax bill. The maximum child tax credit is $2,000 per child up to certain income limits. In 2021, thanks to the American Rescue Plan passed by the Biden Administration in early 2021, there is an additional $1,000 per child ages 6-17 and an additional $1,600 per child ages 0-5. The 2021 additional credits are limited to lower tax brackets than the standard child tax credit, and your tax filing status matters in determining what that threshold is. This could be quite substantial! Be aware that these additional tax credits are also getting partially paid out in the second half of 2021. They are not stimulus payments so you need to understand how you will file for 2021 to determine whether you may have to repay those credits. There were also major increases to the Child and Dependent Care Credit, for some, it could be as much as an $8,000 credit! For more information contact your local Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® or CPA to understand how these changes may be impacted by your decree.
Ordinary Income vs Capital Gains
When you divide investment assets in lieu of a divorce the transfers themselves don’t normally cause any tax implications, but if you need to begin accessing funds from those assets to live on or make a large purchase then tax implications will come into play. As you negotiate your settlement make sure you are aware of your short- and long-term needs because it may adjust how you should approach the property division. There are two types of tax that could come into play if you sell an asset, the first is capital gains. Currently, most people fall in the 15% capital gains bracket however it can be higher if you are in the top tax brackets. This tax comes into play in the sale of a home or investment property or if you sell from a non-retirement investment account. You pay the tax on the amount of the gain, which is the difference between the value at the time of sale and what you paid for the asset. The second type of tax is ordinary income. Ordinary income is the tax you pay on all income including any distributions from pre-tax retirement accounts, like a 401(k), IRA, or annuity.
As you can see taxes are complex and have a lot of moving parts. As you negotiate your divorce settlement be sure to understand how your decisions will impact your tax situations now and in the future. For more guidance contact your local Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and CPA for guidance.