Individuals that pay alimony (also known as “spousal support” or “spousal maintenance”) to a former spouse can deduct these payments on their personal federal income tax returns. In turn, the alimony recipient is required to claim the payments as income.
Before a payor takes an alimony deduction they should make sure that their payments meet the IRS qualifications for alimony. Ideally, this was addressed and discussed in detail with their divorce attorney to ensure that the alimony was structured in a way that would allow a deduction. If you are not sure whether your payments are deductible you should consult with a family law or tax attorney. Here are some tips regarding what does and does not meet the general requirements for payments to qualify as alimony under the Internal Revenue Code.
Alimony is Formally Mandated
According to the IRS, alimony payments must be mandated by a legal settlement agreement or court order to qualify for the tax deduction. This means that there must be a legally binding agreement, such as a temporary support order, separation agreement or divorce decree, that describes and mandates the support provided by one spouse to the other. The IRS does not consider voluntary, informal payments of money to a spouse or former spouse to be alimony.
Child Support Is Not Alimony
Child support is not alimony and those who pay child support cannot deduct these payments from their income. Under federal tax laws, child support is not tax deductible by the parent who pays it, and does notneed to be reported as taxable income by the parent who receives the payments.
Cash Payments Only
Non-cash property transfers don’t count as alimony and cannot be deducted from one’s taxable income. Alimony must be paid in cash, or by check or money order, in order to satisfy the statutory requirements.
Third Party Payments
In some cases, court-ordered payments to third parties can be considered alimony and are therefore tax deductible. Examples of this include rent or medical expense payments. In addition, payments made on taxes, mortgages or insurance may also be entirely or partially tax deductible if treated as alimony under a divorce or separation agreement.
Complications Can Arise if You Still Live With Your Ex-Spouse
According to the IRS, a person who is legally separated from his or her spouse, yet still lives in the same home with him or her cannot normally claim a tax deduction on alimony payments. An exception to this rule exists when one spouse leaves the home within one month after receiving an alimony payment. In those states that recognize legal separation, those who are still living with their former spouse and have a legally binding support agreement but are not legally separated, should talk to their attorney or tax adviser to find out whether their payments qualify for a deduction.
About the Author
Scott Morgan is a board certified Austin divorce lawyer who regularly blogs on the subject of divorce and family law. You can read his blog at AustinDivorceSpecialist.com.