January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

An important factor in determining whether to award alimony is the tax consequences of the court order.  We all know that periodic alimony is income to the payee and deductible by the payer if it meets the IRS’s requirements.

So what does the IRS consider to be the essential ingredients of an alimony award, either by agreement or by adjudication?  Section 71(b) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) provides that the following must apply:

  1. There must be cash payments to the recipient or third-party payments;
  2. Payments must be required by a written instrument;
  3. Instrument must not designate the payment as “not alimony” or as some other form of payment;
  4. The payer and payee must not be members of the same household;
  5. Payments may not be treated as child support;
  6. Payments must cease on death of the recipient;
  7. The parties may not file a joint tax return.

Payments that will not be treated as alimony by the IRS include:  child support; noncash transfers; payments that are part of a spouse’s community property income; payments for use of property; and payments for maintainenance or upkeep of the payer’s property.  Lump sum alimony, which is really an equalizing payment in equitable distribution, is not considered alimony by the IRS.

If you’re planning to use the form to prove the tax effects of alimony that I posted previously, you need to update it to conform to the latest version of IRC § 71(b).

It’s important to give some thought to these provisions regardless of which side you are on in an alimony dispute.  If you represent the client trying to get some cash, you might consider proposing to the court or negotiating for it to be in the form of a property division; as such, it would not be considered income.  Likewise, you can propose to the judge or negotiate for the payment to omit one of the ingredients above.  If you represent the party who will have to pay, make sure you get all of the essential ingredients included so that your client’s payments will be deductible.

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