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Marital status and taxes, part 2: a Q & A divorce and separation

Let's continue the discussion we began last week of the impact of marital status on taxes.

In the first part of the post, we noted that married people don't necessarily get better tax treatment than unmarried people. For example, an unmarried couple can come off better than a married couple when it comes to deductions for home-mortgage interest.

In this part of the post, we will use a Q & A format to look at the effect of divorce or separation on taxes.

How are child support payments treated?

Child support payments aren't taxable income to the person who receives them. The payments also aren't deductible for the person who makes them.

What about spousal support?

Spousal support, also often called alimony, is a trickier matter than child support. If you receive alimony, it is taxable. But tax withholding doesn't apply to it. The IRS therefore encourages considers people who receive alimony to consider making estimated tax payments to reflect that income.

Is spousal support deductible?

Yes, as long as the payments were made under a court order of divorce or separation. But if the payments are made voluntarily, apart from an official decree, a tax deduction is not available for them.

If there is a child (or children), who gets the tax exemption for dependent care?

Only one taxpayer can claim this exemption in a given year. The question of which spouse gets it depends on various factors. In many cases, parents choose to split the exemption after getting divorced.

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