Divorce Is A Time to Think About Taxes

Apr 1, 2021

As the tax filing deadlines approach, many of us are encouraged to think about tax planning for the year ahead. No matter what time of year it is when you are facing divorce, it’s the right time to think about taxes.

Your filing status will change in the year of your divorce, and this change will affect the entire year. So even if your divorce isn’t finalized until later this year (for example, in September), your new filing status will be in effect for all of 2021, and this will be your filing status when you file your taxes next year for 2021.

While you are married and filing joint returns, it’s very possible that a lot of taxes are withheld from one spouse’s paycheck but much less from the other’s pay. Since this is all added up at tax time, the net result may be fine, in that no taxes are owed or there may even be a big refund. But what happens now, if you are the person who did not have much taken out of your paycheck?

Here is an example:

John and Susan are getting divorced. John’s gross income is $100,000 per year ($3,846 biweekly). John has federal taxes withheld based on being married with two children claimed as dependents.

Based on the IRS Federal Tax Withholding Tables, John would have $175 in taxes withheld from each bi-weekly paycheck for a total of $4,550.

When John files his taxes for 2021, he is now filing as a single taxpayer, and he and Susan have agreed to each claim one child as a dependent.

John takes the standard deduction, since Susan is keeping the house and paying the mortgage, so he doesn’t have enough deductions to itemize.

And based on the tax rates for single taxpayers, and even with an increased child tax credit for 2021, John’s federal taxes will be $12,067, meaning that he will owe the IRS $7,517!

It’s essential to plan for the tax changes that will happen when you are getting divorced.

Now, this may be an extreme example, as perhaps John was having extra money withheld voluntarily from his paycheck. But the lesson to be learned here is that it’s essential to plan for the changes that will happen when you are getting divorced.

If you are getting divorced, this is what you can do NOW:

  1. Adjust your payroll withholding. At a minimum, you can change your withholding status to “single” and claim no dependents. For a more precise strategy, contact a tax professional, and be sure to have your most recent pay stub.
  2. Adjust your household budget to acknowledge the reality that your spendable income may be reduced because your taxes are going up. Use this information to determine how this might affect your future needs as it relates to providing financial support for your children or spousal maintenance payments.

Using my skills as both a divorce mediator and experienced finance professional, I will help you think through what lies ahead, including how your tax situation may change and what steps to take to prepare.