There’s a lot to deal with during a divorce. Add to the list more complicated paperwork during tax filing time. The following tips from Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block, will help make sure you’re on top of things for tax day.
1. Select the Right Tax Filing Status
Your marital status on Dec. 31 of the year you are filing tax returns for determines your filing status.
This means taxpayers who are not divorced on that date must continue to use one of the filing statuses for married couples, which are married filing jointly and married filing separately. In some cases, married taxpayers may be able to use the head of household filing status even without being divorced if you have lived apart from your spouse for more than half of the year and provided more than half of the maintenance for your household, which includes son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, or eligible foster child.
Being divorced could qualify you to file as head of household if you also meet these two conditions: You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home and you had a qualifying dependent living in your home more than half of the year. Divorced taxpayers who do not qualify to use the head of household status will generally file as single.
2. Change Your Name
Depending on where you are now in the divorce process, your name and/or address could’ve changed.
After a name change, remember to request a new Social Security card with your new name. Your name on your tax return must match what the Social Security Administration has on file. If it doesn’t, it could take much longer to process your tax return and delay the issuance of a tax refund. Also file Form 8822 with the IRS to change your address of record.
3. Handle Alimony and Child Support Correctly
In past years if you received alimony you were required to claim it as taxable income, and if you paid it you were allowed to claim it as an above-the-line tax deduction. Note that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 changed that, making alimony no longer taxable or deductible.
Also note that child support isn’t tax-deductible for the payer, and child support isn’t considered income for the recipient and therefore should not be reported on income tax returns.
4. Decide Who Claims the Children as Dependents
Children cannot be claimed as dependents on both divorced parents’ tax returns. Some divorced parents alternate years when they claim the children on their taxes, but in most cases, the custodial parent (the parent the child spends more nights with) will claim the children as their dependents.
However, with the proper written consent from the custodial parent, the noncustodial parent can claim children as their dependents. They must give you a completed Form 8332 releasing your child’s exemption to you. You’ll attach that form to your tax return.
5. Seek Protection If You Suspect Your Spouse Incorrectly Reported Their Income
Divorce, separation and remarriage can often prompt people to review their tax history and sometimes seek relief. For example, if one spouse owes back taxes or has other past-due obligations (e.g., child support) for which the IRS can hold back some or all of a joint tax refund, the other spouse can request injured spouse relief. If it’s granted, the injured spouse may be able to get their portion of a tax refund, while their spouse’s portion would offset the past-due debts.
Married taxpayers who suspect a past joint tax return may have understated income and tax without their knowledge may seek relief from joint tax liability by requesting innocent spouse relief. This relief is available in these three categories, each with its own set of qualifications:
More on filing taxes from HerMoney:
- 2020 Tax Filing Tips for Women Who Have Gone Through Some Stuff
- This List Will Save You Money on Tax Prep This Year
- When To Do Your Taxes Yourself or Hire an Expert
Editor’s note: This post has been updated.