and taxes can become a consideration in terms of whether to have a divorce final by year-end or final after January 1. I have worked on a number of divorce cases where this very topic deserved a thorough analysis to determine which tax filing year to have the divorce final.
Here are a couple of important points to remember. If you are married for the entire year, the choices you have for tax filing are joint or married filing separately. If the courts deem the divorce final no later than December 31, you are considered divorced for the entire year and are not able to file jointly or married filing separately. An entry of divorce on December 31 requires filing as single or if qualified as head of household for the year ended December 31.
How do you determine which year is best? Usually this requires completion of the various tax return scenarios by a qualified tax advisor normally a CPA or Enrolled Agent. They will run the numbers for a joint return as if the couple was married the entire year. Next, they will run the numbers as if they were divorced for the year with either a single or Head of Household filing status if qualified. Whatever method results in the lowest combined tax for the couple preserves more of the family assets and resources. Sometimes this can amount to thousands of dollars.
I recently concluded a collaborative divorce
case as a financial neutral for a couple where this very issue came up. My initial analysis revealed the couple could in-fact save thousands of dollars by having the divorce final by year-end vs. filing a joint return for 2014 and the divorce final in 2015. A thorough and complete analysis by a CPA confirmed the couple would save approximately $20,000 in income taxes by having the divorce final no later than December 31.
Needless to say, this couple would much rather have the $20,000 in their pockets vs. having to forfeit that amount to the I.R.S. Although divorce documents are e-filed with the courts, there is no guarantee the divorce will be final by December 31. Once the documents are received by the courts, the file is assigned to a judicial officer for review. Files submitted in late November and December are not automatically reviewed and approved by year-end. Attorneys working on the case will often make requests to have the review and entry of divorce completed by December 31. I hope that in this most recent case it will be. It is always worth a try especially when you have $20,000 on the table.
Do not overlook the tax strategies and any potential savings when divorcing near year-end. It could potentially save you and your family a bundle.
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