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Tax options for separated and divorcing couples

| Mar 17, 2019 | Divorce

Tax time is always a stressful time of year, no matter what else is going on in your life. It can become overwhelming if you are going through a divorce at the same time. You have a lot of factors to consider right now. Apart from all the emotional and procedural aspects of ending your marriage, you need to think about how it impacts your tax filing and return.

While your mind may mostly be pre-occupied with child custody and asset division, taxes deserve your attention too. Take a look at some of these tax guidelines to follow as you proceed with your divorce.

Filing status

The most important thing that determines your filing status is Dec. 31. If you have a separation decree before the new year, you may choose to file as “head of household” or “single.” But if you are married according to IRS standards, your only options are “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately.” 

If you are legally separated

It all boils down to what your relationship is defined as under tax law. In this case, you have the opportunity to file with the status of “head of household” if you meet these two requirements:

  • You have a dependent
  • You pay at least 50 percent of home expenses

If the dependent is your child who primarily lives with you instead of your partner, the IRS views you as a custodial parent. But this does not necessarily mean you can automatically claim your child on your taxes. Your spouse must agree to this as only one of you can claim your child and benefit from credits. 

If you are still legally married

Sometimes, you may need to file as if you are still married even though you are breaking up. You may want to file separately in order to avoid sharing tax liabilities, but it will cause you both to pay more. Filing separately means you lose out on higher education and earned income tax credits. But filing jointly is sometimes unfeasible when your relationship is in turmoil.


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