Matt Levitsky, an associate in our Montgomery County, Pennsylvania office wrote a guest blog for our fir’s Pennsylvania Family Law Blog entitled "Who Gets to Claim the child if there is 50/50 Custody?"

Matt’s post talks about the four prong test and the fact that at the end of the day, all other things being equal, the exemption would normally go to the parent with the higher adjusted gross income (AGI).  The piece also has an interesting discussion on whether a step-parent’s income is included in the AGI test.  I note that Sandra Fava has previously addressed the issue of the allocation of the dependency exemptions, in general, on this blog.

While this is an interesting technical discussion, often it does not come into play in post-divorce scenarios in New Jersey because, either the parties agree upon the allocation of exemptions (most often, blindly alternating it if there is an odd number of children or splitting them if there is an even number of children – whether this makes sense or not will be the subject of another blog post in the future) or a judge will simply allocate the exemptions in a similar fashion, regardless of what the IRS code would provide. 

In any event, Matt’s post was interesting reading and provides some guidance about what the proper result is when there is no agreement of the parties or decision by a court.

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Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric practices in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or esolotoff@foxrothschild.com.

As tax day is around the corner, Mark Ashton, a partner in our Exton, Pennsylvania office, and a contributor the firm’s Pennsylvania Family Law blog, wrote a timely post on that blog entitled "Tax Time."

In that article, Mark discusses tax deductions, tax credits and joint tax returns. 

I have previously blogged about the issue of innocent spouse relief and how the form has traps for the unwary.  Another point to make is that while the signing of indemnification agreements, allocating responsibility for information, taxes, etc. is common during a divorce, they are only enforceable as between the parties and are not binding on the IRS. 

During tax season this past Spring, we posted blog entry entitled "Who Gets The Tax Exemption".  This past month in a Chief Counsel Advice (CCA), the IRS has clarified the provisions in the IRS Code relating to exemptions which were discussed in our blog.  CCA 200925041 cautions that a Final Judgment of Divorce awarding one party a dependency exemption may not be upheld by the IRS if the Judgment awarding the dependency exemption contains contingencies.  

In our prior blog, we discussed the recently amended IRS code, Section 152(e) relating to tax exemptions.  Section 152(e) directs, for exemption purposes, that the custodial parent is the one with whom the child resides the greater number of nights during the year regardless of the terms of a divorce decree.  However, Section 152(e) does not preclude the non-custodial parent from claiming the exemption so long a the custodial parent executes IRS Form 8332 releasing the exemption.  Sandra Fava, the scrivener of the blog, noted that it is important to make sure that there is a procedure in place to have the custodial parent file IRS Form 8332 so that the non-custodial parent will be able to claim the exemption.  CCA 200925041 clarifies the procedure in effectuating the exemption through execution of Form 8332 and further recommends additional procedures in order for the non-custodial parent to exercise his or her right to claim the exemption..

CCA 200925041 clarifies that (1) for pre-July 3, 2008 divorce decrees or separation agreements allowing a non-custodial parent to claim an exemption for a child, a non-custodial parent may attach pages of a divorce decree or separation instrument executed on or before July 2, 2008 if the pages constitute a statement substantially similar to the requirements of Form 8332 in effect at the time of the entry of the decree or separation agreement; and (2) for post-July 3, 2008 divorce decrees or separation agreements, a custodial parent’s release of a claim to an exemption for a child must be separate from the decree or separation agreement.  The release of the exemption my be pursuant to a signed Form 8332 or a document that conforms to the substance of Form 8332 but the document’s only purpose must be to release a claim to the exemption. 

Also very important is that CCA 200925041 specifically noted that for pre-July 3, 2008 divorce decrees or separation agreements, while in order to obtain the exemption the non-custodial parent may attach pages of a divorce decree or separation instrument executed on or before July 2, 2008, the provisions to the divorce decree or separation agreement must not contain any conditions on claiming the exemption.  For example, parties often agree that one party may claim an exemption so long as his or her child support obligation is current.  If this type of provision is contained in the divorce decree or the separation agreement, regardless of whether the condition is satisfied, a non-custodial parent will be unable to claim the exemption simply by attaching copies of the decree or separation agreement as has been the practice in the past.

Accordingly, it is important to do the following:  (1) If you have a pre-July 3, 2008 divorce decree or settlement agreement that contains conditional requirements and you are the non-custodial parent, discuss with an attorney how to best protect your exemption right and any necessary modifications to your Judgment or your settlement agreement to effectuate your right;  and  (2) if you are currently separated or about to be separated and are heading to divorce, make sure that you address these issues with an attorney so that you can insure that there are no problems in the future with respect to the IRS and exemptions. 

As April 15h quickly approaches and the pressure to get those tax returns completed and filed grows, the issue of which parent can claim a child or children as a dependency deduction for tax purposes becomes more and more relevant.

All Property Settlement Agreements (“PSA”) or Final Judgments of Divorce should address this issue to avoid future complications.  What about when the issue is appropriately addressed but one parent seeks to modify the terms so as to receive a benefit  perhaps previously given up in lieu of some other benefit?

Recently, the Appellate Division heard the matter of Mitchell v. Mitchell, A-4856-07T1, decided March 11, 2009 (unpublished decision).  In this case, the parties have been divorced since 2002 resolving their issues by entering into a negotiated Property Settlement Agreement.  At the time of the divorce, husband was earning over $100,000 and wife was imputed income of $17,000.  The two children were given as tax exemptions to the husband but resided primarily with the wife.

Both parties remarried.  In 2008, wife filed a motion seeking, among other things, to amend the terms of the parties’ PSA to allow each party to claim one child as a dependency deduction on their tax returns.  Her argument was based on the fact that husband now had twins with his current spouse and would receive that tax benefit.  The trial court granted this request stating that there had been “numerous changes in circumstances” since the parties entered into the agreement and that such a request was “fair”.

The Appellate Division vacated and remanded this aspect of the trial court’s Order.  In doing so, it noted that husband didn’t argue that the trial court was powerless to change or modify the terms of the PSA but rather that the judge’s conclusory determination of what was “fair” was insufficient to support the Order.  The Appellate Division agreed stating that the “record does not disclose the tax effect if one of the child tax exemptions was taken from” the husband.  Id. at pg. 6.  The court must ascertain whether its fair and equitable to take from husband a right for which he had previously bargained and which  may need to be determined with an evidentiary hearing.

In 2008, the IRS amended Section 152(e), which deals with dependency exemptions.  The changes to the tax code can be summarized as follows:

The custodial parent, for 2009 and forward, is the one with whom the child resides the greater number of nights during the year, regardless of the terms of the divorce decree.

The custodial parent can unilaterally revoke the release of a child exemption for calendar years 2009 and forward, even if the release was made prior to 2009.  As a result, it is important to make sure that there is a procedure in place to have the custodial parent file IRS form 8332 in a timely manner so that the non-custodial parent can claim the exemption that they are entitled to claim by reason of the parties’ agreement or a Court Order. Put another way, the change in the IRS section does not preclude a non-custodial parent from claiming the exemption, it just requires more care to make sure that this is accomplished.

As a further note, the individual claiming a dependency exemption is entitled to benefit from a Child Tax Credit and any allowable Hope and/or Lifetime Learning Educational Tax Credits.

For more information on the tax benefits/ramifications of these issues, you should consult a tax professional.