Take care when claiming alimony deductions

One of the few silver linings of having to pay spousal support is the ability to deduct those payments from one’s Adjusted Gross Income, or AGI. In some cases, this tax deduction can make a big difference in one’s overall tax outlook. However, for those in New York who are planning to make use of the alimony deduction, it is important to understand how doing so can raise a red flag with the Internal Revenue Service.

Claiming alimony payments as a deduction requires that the filer submit a social security number or tax identification number for his or her former spouse. This allows the IRS to match the amount claimed as a deduction, with the amount that the recipient claims as income. However, if those two numbers do not match, both returns could be flagged for further review.

In 2010, over half a million tax returns were filed in which alimony was claimed as a deduction. Of those, nearly half did not list the same amount as that claimed by the recipient. From the perspective of the IRS, this may represent a significant loss, as well as a great deal of potential fines. While audits concerning these discrepancies are still relatively uncommon, it would not be surprising if the IRS decides to turn additional focus toward these discrepancies.

For those in New York who are preparing to divorce, it is important to understand how alimony will play into one’s tax planning in the years to come. It can be difficult to control whether one’s spouse files a proper tax return. However, knowing that a discrepancy could trigger an audit should underscore the importance of ensuring that one’s own return is accurate.

Source: Forbes, “Alimony Deduction Requires Good Substantiation“, Peter J. Reilly, Aug. 13, 2014

Witness protection program stalls divorce process

When a New York spouse has made the decision to end his or her marriage, one of the early steps within that divorce process involves serving the other party with the required paperwork. In most cases, this step is completed in a relatively simple and straightforward manner, and the divorce moves forward. However, when one party is unwilling or unable to be served, delays can occur.

witness-protection-programA prime example lies in the divorce between Scott and Kim Rothstein. The Rothsteins are now both inmates within the federal prison system. Scott Rothstein is serving a 50-year sentence for his involvement in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of nearly $1.4 billion. His wife is serving just 18 months for attempting to hide jewelry and additional assets during the investigation and subsequent bankruptcy.

Mrs. Rothstein has decided to initiate divorce proceedings, and she has made efforts to serve her husband with divorce papers. This process has become complicated, however, due to the fact that Mr. Rothstein is being housed within the federal prison witness protection program. The program provides security for inmates who assist in the identification and prosecution of members of organized crime. Because of his inclusion within the program, Mrs. Rothstein has been unable to serve him. She has asked the court to grant an extension of the service deadline, and officials are looking into how Mr. Rothstein may be safely and properly served.

For most New York spouses, any service issues that may occur will be on a far smaller scale than the ones mentioned here. However, if one spouse takes actions to avoid service, difficulties may arise. In such cases, one’s divorce attorney can assist by providing referrals to process servers or private investigators who can track down the individual’s location and complete the service of legal paperwork as needed.

Source: The Sun Sentinel, “Where’s Rothstein? Divorce hits delay because fraudster is in secret prison“, Paula McMahon, June 2, 2014

Tips to help those in a New York divorce protect their finances

Just as financial disagreements can cause a rift between two married people and eventually lead to adivorce, it can make the divorce process challenging to get through. This can be particularly concerning for a New York couple with significant assets. A few tips can help them to protect themselves financially during and after the divorce.

First, it’s typically ise to immediately close all accounts that one has opened jointly with an ex-spouse. This is important because if the ex decides to go on a shopping spree and rack up huge amounts of debt on a joint credit card, or drain a bank checking account, the other party could be held responsible for the credit card debt or for the resulting bank account overdraft fees. It’s helpful to suspend a joint account and confirm that it can’t be reversed of the account otherwise reopened.

In addition, it is normally essential to change the beneficiaries applicable accounts. Failure to do so may mean that an ex gets access to one’s assets, including a 401(k) or IRA, even after a divorce is final. The individual may also want to update his or her umbrella liability or homeowner’s insurance coverage. This may keep the person from paying to financially cover assets that he or she may no longer own.

If two people have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that dictates how high-value assets will be split during a divorce, this can be immensely helpful for the parties. If such an agreement doesn’t exist, the two can still strive to find common ground and reach a settlement together. Both parties have the right to fight for their individual wishes to be taken into consideration when making tough financial decisions during a New York divorce proceeding.

Source: dailyfinance.com, “22 Tips to Transform Your Financial Life After a Divorce“, Robert Pagliarini, July 28, 2014

Knowing when it is time to file for a New York divorce

For spouses who are unhappy within their marriage, it can be hard to know when things have degraded to the point that divorce is the best possible option. Marriage vows are not something to be taken lightly, and most New York spouses will go through a great deal of internal debate and consideration before making the motions to end the marriage. There are some scenarios, however, in which divorce is clearly the right choice.

One example lies in cases in which one or both spouses have serious alcohol or drug addictions. The problems are deep-seated, and require professional help and a dedication to change on the part of the user. In the vast majority of cases, spouses who are married to an addict suffer a range of negative consequences, and grow to be deeply unhappy. When an individual who suffers from addiction issues is unwilling or unable to get treatment, his or her spouse has every justification to seek a divorce.

Another scenario in which divorce is often the best choice is when there have been acts of infidelity during the marriage. While there are certainly cases in which spouses can get beyond an affair, it is far more common for the betrayal to cause serious problems within the marriage. Unless a spouse feels confident that he or she can forgive the other person and re-establish a level of trust, it may be better to take steps to end the marriage.

While these are some of the more obvious examples of indicators of an irreparably failed marriage, there are many others that are not as easy to identify. Perhaps the best advice that can be given to spouses who are thinking about divorce is to work with a trusted therapist to gain a measure of clarity on the matter, and to determine what the best course of action might be for future happiness. This can be a difficult time, but many in New York are able to reach a decision that they are not only able to live with, but one that can lead to a vastly improved quality of life.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Is It Time to Get a Divorce?“, Honoree Corder, June 17, 2014

Should ex-spouses communicate on alimony tax issues post- divorce

Once a marriage has ended, many spouses in New York hope to have far fewer reasons to communicate with their former partner. In fact, those without children may envision a future in which no communication is necessary. When it comes to tax matters related to alimony payments, however, it may be a good idea to remain in touch after a divorce, especially in the weeks prior to filing both tax returns.

This is due to the fact that many formerly married couples will remain linked within their tax documents. Spouses who pay alimony can claim those payments as a tax deduction, but are required to provide the IRS with a Tax Identification Number (TIN) for the party who receives those payments. This link gives the IRS the ability to track whether the amount claimed by the paying spouse matches that claimed as income by the recipient. When those two numbers do not match, the result could be the unwelcome attention of an IRS agent.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) recently completed an audit of tax returns for the year 2010. The result was the discovery that the IRS has not caught a great many returns that appear to contain discrepancies, errors or acts of fraud. The basis of these questionable returns are instances in which the alimony deduction amount does not match the amount claimed as income by the recipient. It is estimated that the IRS could lose approximately $1.7 billion in revenue over a period of five years, in addition to $1.6 million in lost penalties.

For those in New York who are paying or receiving alimony, it may be a good idea to try to reach out to one’s former spouse as tax time approaches. While sharing the full details of one’s return is not necessary, former spouses should check that the alimony being claimed as a deduction matches the amount claimed as income. Doing so could save a great deal of time, money and stress if and when one’s return is chosen for an audit by the IRS.

Source: The Washington Free Beacon, “IRS Approved $2.3 Billion in Fraudulent Alimony Deductions“, Elizabeth Harrington, May 22, 2014

Will “conscious uncoupling” be the new divorce norm?

Social trends come and go, and serve to paint a fleeting portrait of where we are as a culture. This is true of divorce, as much as of marriage, courtship or other social interactions. With the recently announced split between actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin, a new divorce trend may soon arise, that of “conscious uncoupling.” The concept is not of the celebrity couple’s own design, but is a therapeutic approach created some years ago to help couples in New York and across the nation find a better path to resolution within their divorce.

In many cases, the choices made by high-profile couples will influence those made by the general public. In regard to conscious uncoupling, many stand to benefit from the example set by the Paltrow/Martin divorce. If the couple is able to complete their transition from married to single, using this method, they will present an excellent example of a divorce approach that is respectful, kind and considerate.

In conscious uncoupling, parties work to identify the aspects of their individual personalities that can stand in the way of a cooperative end to the marriage. Once those traits are acknowledged, individuals can work to avoid letting old habits, fear or misconceptions influence their interaction with each other. The end result can be a divorce process that focuses on building a foundation for the relationship that the parties will have moving forward, and not on rehashing the differences that led to the split in the first place.

While many in New York might dismiss the idea of conscious uncoupling as little more than a celebrity divorce trend, there is a great deal to be gained from integrating the basics of this approach into any divorce. When spouses are able to set aside their emotions and focus on the choices that must be made within a divorce, the outcome can be better for everyone. This may be one celebrity divorce that provides a positive example, rather than just salacious details and tabloid speculation.

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Technology could improve child support communications

Many New York parents struggle with their former spouses over matters related to the care and upbringing of their shared children. In many instances, these difficulties center on child support. Whether the topic is timely payment or how those payments are spent, the issue can lead to a high level of contention between divorced parents.

One way to ease these tensions is to reduce the volume of face-to-face communication between parents. Some families achieve this end by use of email. However, an easier option may be available that is easier to use and that provides an online record of these messages that both parties can track. The program is called SupportPay, and offers parents a neutral setting in which to exchange information concerning the financial matters related to their children.

The parent who is responsible for making child support payments can upload a record of their payment online. The system will track payment activity, and can even send an automated reminder if a payment is late. In addition, the parent who receives child support can use the system to upload receipts, invoices and other documentation concerning the costs of raising a child. This allows both side to have a clear understanding of how child support money is being spent.

Perhaps the best benefit offered by this type of system is the transparency that it provides. When both parents have access to the financial data on the cost of a child’s care, many arguments can be avoided. In addition, platforms such as SupportPay give New York parents the chance to exchange child support information on neutral ground, thus lessening the chance of a financial discussion turning into an argument. In the months and years following a divorce, avoiding conflict whenever possible is the best solution for both parents and children.

Source: Xconomy, Using Tech to De-Stress Child Support, Bernadette Tansey, Nov. 5, 2013