Financial Investigation Tips for Second Marriages

June 2, 2015

INTRODUCTION by ROBIN GRAINE, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

As a divorce mediator, I am keenly aware that many of my clients will enter into second (and sometimes third and fourth) marriages. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that, within five years of a divorce from a first spouse, a whopping one in five Americans says “I do” a second time.  A two marriage record is OK . . . but a two-time personal divorce statistic is really hard to deal with for most people.

Hopefully, whatever mistakes you made in your first marriage will not be repeated in your second attempt. If some of the problems in your first marriage had to do with money, this article will help you with essential and necessary ways of determining what you are getting into the second time around.

Though it may be uncomfortable to do the investigation necessary to ensure “financial bliss,” successful remarriages need to start with openness, trust, and a mutual value system. If you are concerned about your financial future with your new bride or groom, you may need to open up your tax files as big as you open up your heart . . .  it really should not be a problem.  If it is, there’s your first warning that things might not be as perfect between you as you had thought.

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Graine Mediation’s guest blogger, Julian Block, who is a leading national tax professional and attorney, has this to say about protecting yourself financially before you say “yes” to a second marriage:

Tax Reminders for Couples Contemplating Tying the Knot—Again

As an attorney and author who has written and lectured extensively about the tax aspects of marriage and divorce, I frequently receive questions from couples contemplating marriage.

One of my standard recommendations is that they consider the tax consequences beforehand, especially when one of them or both of them are remarrying. My advice: Before they commit to a walk down the aisle, each should consider whether to ask the other for copies of tax returns. In my experience, it’s particularly important for women to do that.

To illustrate how I would advise them, let’s say it’s going to be a second or third marriage for both John and Marsha—something that’s not uncommon nowadays, judging from the SundayStyles Section of the New York Times.

Something else that’s no longer uncommon is that her holdings considerably exceed his. Possible reasons why she’s wealthier? Much-married and several-times-widowed Marsha inherited assets from her spouses; or a couple of divorces resulted in her receiving several sizable settlements; or she was one of the Facebook staffers who were enormously enriched by its IPO.

Both Marsha and John are old enough for membership in AARP. Their ages matter because the divorce rate is extremely high for people over age 50—particularly for those who remarry.

Mindful of those stats, Marsha had John assent to a prenuptial agreement (just as she did in advance of earlier marriages). What else might Marsha do? I counsel her to ask for copies of John’s federal and state returns. Depending on what they reveal, she might decide that it’s prudent to stay single or, if they do wed, to file separate returns.

Following are summaries of scenarios I created that, albeit unromantic, are based on actual events.

Fear of filing:  It turns out that John hasn’t filed returns, something that’s common across all levels of society. It’s vital that Marsha know his potential liability for back taxes, penalties and interest. Also, he must specify when he will file returns and arrange for installment payments that will square him with federal and state tax agencies.

My advice, should Marsha wed: She files separate returns and doesn’t mix her assets with his assets. Also, she asks John to fill her in on what other shoes might drop.

A less troubling scenario that’s nonetheless problematicWhile John has filed 1040s, he owes considerable amounts in back taxes, and interest charges continue to mount. Marsha’s tactics, assuming they wed: Again, file separately and not comingle assets until he has squared accounts with the IRS. There’s a snag if they file jointly and are due a refund; the IRS can apply the refund to his back taxes.

John has filed returns and owes no back taxes: Marsha should still scrutinize certain deductions and other items on his returns. Let’s focus on some of the easier ones.

 Alimony payments: John’s returns reveal that he makes alimony payments to his ex-wives that he didn’t mention to Marsha;

Dependency exemptions for children not living with John due to divorce or separation: A divorce settlement (or settlements) allows him as a noncustodial parent to claim such exemptions.  He never told Marsha about those children;

Gambling: John’s returns show substantial amounts of gambling winnings for “other income” on line 21 of the 1040 form. Those returns also show offsetting deductions for gambling losses on line 28 of Schedule A. Losses are deductible only up to the amount of winnings. Does he have nondeductible losses that far exceed winnings? Perhaps the amounts wagered indicate that John gambles compulsively;

Schedule C: John files a Schedule C for his dental practice. A cursory review of amounts entered for business receipts and expenses suggests he’s understating gross receipts and overstating expenses. Whereas dentists in his area typically claim expenses equal to about 50 percent of gross receipts, his expenses equal about 75 percent of gross receipts. A plausible explanation for the discrepancy is that John doesn’t deposit currency payments received from patients into the practice’s bank account, and he tells his accountant to use bank deposits to calculate gross receipts. Is John trying to pull one on the IRS?

Schedule A: Line 4 shows he claims hefty itemized deductions for medical expenses (allowable to most persons only for the part above 10 percent of adjusted gross income). Deductions could be easily explained as attributable to payments for insurance premiums and expenses usually not covered by insurance—for instance, dental work, hearing aids, glasses, medically required home improvements or private duty nurses. Or the reason for substantial write-offs might be that, like Tony Soprano, John sees a shrink several times a week. Not to imply that there’s anything wrong with those visits; still—like the restorative powers of chicken soup—it can’t hurt and might help for Marsha to determine how much John has in common with Tony or, worse yet, Norman Bates.

Donations: John’s a chintzy contributor, whereas Marsha is a generous giver. This may not be a deal breaker, but they should discuss charitable donations before marriage.

Withholding: Each year, John receives big refunds, deliberately as a form of forced savings or simply by neglecting to claim enough exemptions on his W-4. But interest-free loans to the IRS are anathema for someone like Marsha, who meticulously monitors her withholding from wages and outlays for estimated payments. Her returns may show small balances due. It’s preferable that they discuss before marriage how they’ll handle withholding.

In the midst of all these thorns, there are some roses. Assume John has a substantial capital loss carry forward and no unrealized capital gains. At $3,000 a year, it will take many years to use up John’s carry forward. She, however, has a substantial unrealized capital gain. Marriage means Marsha can realize the gain and offset it against John’s carry forward.

Similarly, suppose he operates a business that’s unprofitable. He has a hefty net operating loss carry forward; but not enough other income to absorb the carry forward. Marsha has sizable income. Marriage enables him to apply his carry forward against her income.    

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Julian Block writes and practices law in Larchmont, N.Y. and was formerly with the IRS as a special agent (criminal investigator) and an attorney. He is frequently quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, and has been cited as: “a leading tax professional” (New York Times); “an accomplished writer on taxes” (Wall Street Journal);and “an authority on tax planning” (Financial Planning Magazine). This article is excerpted from “Julian Block’s Tax Tips for Marriage and Divorce,” available as a Kindle at Amazon.com and as a print copy at julianblocktaxexpert.com. Law professor James E. Maule, a professor at Villanova University School of Law and Graduate Tax Program, praised the book as “An easy-to-read and well-organized explanation of the tax rules.”  The National Association of Personal Financial Advisers says it is “A terrific reference.”

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

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When Should Married Couples Check ‘Married, Filing Separately’?

March 1, 2015

Graine Mediation is pleased to introduce Julian Block, JD as our guest blogger this week.  Mr. Block is a leading authority on tax planning for divorce and the author of Julian Block’s Tax Tips for Divorce, from which this article is an excerpt.

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Married couples need no reminder that they can benefit from joint filing when one mate earns all or considerably more of the income than the other. That tax break, though, can become a trap for spouses who decide to split, but don’t obtain a divorce or a legal separation. They still have the option to file jointly, assum­ing both partners are willing to do so. Nevertheless, one or both might find it more advantageous to file separately. The financial implications are huge.

Among other drawbacks for joint filers: they’re jointly and severally liable. That means married persons remain on the hook even if their marriage breaks up after they file a joint return. So if the IRS audits their return and demands extra taxes, it can dun either mate for the entire amount of any additional taxes, penalties and interest that becomes due.

Nevertheless, there are some drawbacks to filing separately. Whatever a couple’s reasons for avoiding tax togetherness, the two of them may be in for an unpleasant and expensive surprise when filing time rolls around. The taxes they’ll pay as married persons filing separately can be considerably more than the taxes they’d owe as joint filers or even as two unmarried persons.

There are other drawbacks for married persons who choose to file separately. One is that both of them must use Schedule A of Form 1040 to itemize their deductions for charitable donations and the like or that both must use the standard deduction.

Special rules for married persons living apart. Fortunately, there’s a way out of these traps for many married persons. An often overlooked break entitles them to be treated as if they were unmarried for the year in question—provided they fulfill certain requirements. The result: Even though they aren’t divorced or legally separated, they’re excused from having to use the rates for a married individual filing separately and, instead, receive the benefit of the more favorable rates for a head of household.

To take advantage of head of household rates, you have to pass a four-step test.

  •  Step 1: You file a separate return from your spouse.
  •  Step 2: Your spouse didn’t live with you at any time during the last six months of 2014. You and your spouse must live in separate residences, warns the IRS, and the courts agree. The Tax Court has ruled that a hus­band failed to qualify as a head of household when he and his wife agreed to live in separate areas of the same residence. Thus, living apart under one roof doesn’t pass muster.

In another dispute, the court reminded Laurel Hopkins that sharing the same quarters for as little as one day during the last six months of the year can be fatal. Before more than six months had elapsed during the year at issue, Laurel and her husband, William, had ceased to live together; but during the balance of the year, she sometimes let William stay overnight be­cause he was unable to find a dwelling.

As she paid all the household bills and was the sole support of their two children, Laurel, not unrea­sonably, believed herself entitled to file as a head of household. Unfortunately, in the course of a subse­quent IRS audit, Laurel let slip that William sometimes stayed in her apartment. On the basis of that admission, the feds determined that Laurel’s proper filing status was that of a married person filing separately. Though sympathetic to Laurel’s predicament, the Tax Court agreed with the IRS that a wife who shelters a homeless husband at any time during the last six months of the year disqualifies herself for head of household status.

 To avoid getting caught in an audit trap like Laurel, don’t chat yourself into loss of a tax break. Confine your answers to the questions raised.

  •  Step 3: You paid more than half of the cost of keeping up your home for 2014.
  •  Step 4: Your home was, for more than half of 2014, the principal residence of your child, stepchild or adopted child, whom you can claim as a dependent.

You aren’t necessarily disqualified from filing as a head of household just because you’re unable to claim the child. As the parent with custody—the mother, in most cases—you continue to be eligible, if you sign IRS Form 8332, which allows the 2014 exemption to be claimed by your spouse, the parent without custody.

When couples live apart by mutual agreement, they might be able to work out an arrangement whereby each spouse can claim a dependent child and each qualifies as a head of household. Congress enacted this special provision that treats married persons as unmarried individuals primarily for the benefit of abandoned wives (or husbands). But it worded the provision broadly enough to cover couples who have separated and who live apart by mutual agreement—without any actual abandonment.

Julian Block writes and practices law in Larchmont, N.Y. and was formerly with the IRS as a special agent (criminal investigator) and an attorney. He is frequently quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, and has been cited as: “a leading tax professional” (New York Times); “an accomplished writer on taxes” (Wall Street Journal); and “an authority on tax planning” (Financial Planning Magazine). This article is excerpted from “Julian Block’s Tax Tips for Marriage and Divorce,” available as a Kindle at Amazon.com and as a print copy at julianblocktaxexpert.com. Law professor James E. Maule, a professor at Villanova University School of Law and Graduate Tax Program, praised the book as “An easy-to-read and well-organized explanation of the tax rules.” The National Association of Personal Financial Advisers says it is “A terrific reference.”

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


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