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Divorce and the Child Tax Deduction: Who Claims the Children?

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QUESTION: Are there any particular tax issues I should be concerned about now that I’m getting a divorce?

Benjamin Franklin said that nothing can be certain except death and taxes.  As you go through your divorce, you will face a lot of uncertainty. Careful planning can help ensure that your taxes aren’t part of that uncertainty.

What do taxes have to do with divorce?

While you are married, you file taxes jointly with your spouse. After your divorce, you will change your filing status to single or head of household. This will affect the amount you pay in taxes, especially if you are a parent.

American tax law offers a number of tax breaks to taxpayers who have children. These tax breaks include a higher standard deduction, an exemption for each dependent child, a deduction for child care costs, a deduction for educational expenses, and a child tax credit. These tax breaks can add up to thousands of dollars.

When you were married, you and your spouse shared these tax breaks. But, the deductions cannot be shared after a divorce. IRS rules require that a child can be claimed on only one tax return. How do you decide which parent gets the deduction?

Most children are supported by both parents even after a divorce; however, the parent with primary physical custody is usually the parent that gets the deductions. When parents share physical custody, the IRS considers the parent with whom the child spends the most nights to be the custodial parent. But, allowing the custodial parent to take the deduction may not be the best choice for every family.

Some families choose to allow the higher income spouse to claim the children on taxes in exchange for more child support. Since child support is tax neutral, it does not count as earned income for the recipient. Other families choose to alternate taking the child-related deductions. If there is more than one child, divorced parents may choose to split the deductions so everyone benefits.

The non-custodial parent may only claim the child if the custodial parent fills out IRS Form 8832, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent. The parent with custody can specify whether he or she is giving up the deduction for one year or multiple years. The ex-spouse must then attach the form to his or her income tax return.

If you plan to share the deduction or give the give it to the non-custodial parent, make sure that the divorce agreement specifies that the custodial parent give up the right to a tax exemption through Form 8832. The IRS will still consider the deduction to belong to the custodial parent. It does not enforce divorce agreements; this is up to family courts.

Child-related deductions aren’t the only tax implication of divorce. Alimony may also affect your tax status. It is a good idea to talk to a financial planner about the tax implications of your divorce agreement. For more information, contact Petrelli Previtera at 866-465-5395.

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