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Divorce Mediation Blog

The Goose, the Gander and the TCJA

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Levine Dispute Resolution - Alimony

We know that under the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) alimony instruments executed before December 31, 2018 will carry over deductibility when modified thereafter so long as the parties (or the court?) don’t opt out of that treatment. While we all hope that we can successfully maintain this important tax leverage for the sake of restructured families by incorporating existing temporary (interlocutory) orders into 2019-and-later agreements, a question (among many) that continues to nag is, just how malleable is this rule?

It seems clear that if one modifies former Spouse A’s alimony by reducing the sum or increasing it, deductibility remains intact.

I also assume that if we change former Spouse A’s alimony from an expressed sum to a formula, in whole or in part (i.e., $5000 per month to .325 of gross pay, or $5,000 per month to $4,000 per month plus .325 of future bonuses) deductibility is not jeopardized.

And, if former Spouse A’s alimony durational term is reduced or extended, there seems to be no reason why the opt out rule should not apply.

But, here is the payoff question:

    What if former Spouse A loses her job, former Spouse B’s career has taken off, and the modification shifts the payment obligation from A to B, is deductibility still available for this new obligation?

If this sounds a bit familiar, we wondered in an earlier blog entry if the durational limits of the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act (eff. 3.1.12) apply to one spouse, or to both when they trade alimony places. As in, if the presumed duration is 7 years, and halfway through, the alimony obligation shifts, does the clock re-set, or does the second payor get credit for the former payor’s time served?

In an era of 2 partner family income predominance, this is not a far-fetched scenario — and now we have to worry about deductibility, too.

What do you think?

 

Dreaming About Alimony…

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Levine Dispute Resolution Center - Alimony

In 2017, any waking person knew that Congress and the administration were furiously digging for ways to stem the flood of money out of the U.S. Treasury that they were about to cause by cutting corporate and top individual income tax rates. After all, “elections have consequences.”

In the fourth quarter, it became apparent that Congress had the alimony deduction – a longtime GOP target -- in its crosshairs. As a fiscal matter in context, its cost was marginal, but the decades-old subsidy for divorcing families offended some on moral grounds and compliance was poorly enforced by the IRS, causing greater treasury losses.

But, while the potential yield was small (see our August 15, 2018 post “Alimony and TCJA: Less A Misconception than a Worry…at www.levinedisputeresolution/divorce-mediation-blog/) but the target was rich: middle income and upper middle-class families – many professional – many Democrat – families with large tax rate gaps between spouses, where the alimony deduction helped most. (Low marginal tax rate families gained little from the alimony deduction while both spouses of the uber-rich donor class live at the highest rates, eliminating the value of leveraging family dollars with alimony.)

By December 2017, EVERYONE knew that Congress had repealed the alimony deduction, but had deferred the effective date of repeal by a full year, being effective January 1, 2019.

That’s when Massachusetts’ prominently specialized court, its sophisticated family law bar, financial expert cohort and state legislature all kicked into high gear, to buffer the impact of the family losses engineered by Congress that would soon impact a significant portion of their constituency…

… bar groups immediately conferred on how to press the state legislature to amend the Alimony Reform Act (eff. 3.1.12) in plenty of time to be sure that by January 1, 2019, the courts would have an alimony statute (initially based and passed on presumed deductibility) that is reconciled with the new reality that the federal deduction is gone…

… as they did so, the Probate and Family Court swung into action, setting up “listening” sessions in the various counties so that local practitioners and county bar associations could weigh in on their fears and suggested solutions…

… the court sought out the most prominent experts in the field to begin to come to grips with the economic impact of the lost alimony deduction on its constituent families…

… the court conferred with its judges to see how they might create common approaches to making sure that no one would gain unfair advantage by demanding windfalls for payors or payees, because of an ARA that was now out of sync with federal tax law…

… interest groups communicated to make sure that none of them would advocate for results that would unfairly advantage one side or the other because of the tax law changes…

… the court and various bar groups worked closely to make sure that a legislative fix would be put before the legislature in plenty of time for it to act before January 1st, so that everyone would hit the ground running with the understood goals of the ARA preserved despite federal action...

… the proactivity of the court, the bar and the interest groups led to a unified approach, a smooth glide path to the 2019 reality, so that predictability reigned, and the system didn’t miss a beat…

As I said, I was dreaming…

February 4, 2019’s Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Vol. 45, Issue No. 5, article, “Bar: need for alimony fix is urgent” recounts the efforts of the joint alimony task force to move a bill to the legislature with the simplest form of fix, the reticence of at least one interest group, silence from the court -- and as for the legislature – well, who knows. Per Lawyers Weekly, “…the effort is just now gearing up…”, with the horse well outside the barn

As I have asked lawyers in my divorce mediation sessions if they are seeing a common approach in the courts, they look at me like I am still dreaming.

 



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