Typically, people wait to divorce until after the holidays. And for New York residents who decided to do just that this year, they will be in for a big surprise when they take steps to end their marriages in 2019.
On Jan. 1, new tax laws take effect. In short, the people who pay alimony no longer will be able to take it as a tax deduction. Those who receive alimony no longer must pay taxes on that money. That means the household that pays the alimony will see its income tax liability go up significantly. The former spouse receiving the payments will owe less.
In New York state, the Legislature set guidelines for alimony in 2015 that considered the federal tax laws that were in effect at the time. Now the higher-earning spouse who is left to take alimony likely will fight having to pay under the set formula.
The New York guidelines do give judges some ability to vary from set guidelines and consider things such as the length of the marriage, tax impacts and future earning potential of both former spouses. But that leeway doesn't mean parties should go into court and have judges overturn convention. Instead, it will be up both sides to negotiate in light of the new law.
As a result, it is likely accountants will need to be part of each person's team to help figure the financial implications. As an example, as explained by the Journal News, look at a former spouse earning $300,000 a year and paying $100,000 in alimony annually.
That spouse previously had a deduction of about $35,000, which no longer will be the case. The other spouse had a liability of about $17,000.
Now, the federal government stands to increase its take by $18,000 on this couple. That's $18,000 of assets that can't be split up in a divorce. That likely will mean extended negotiations since the higher-earning spouse has lost any financial incentive in paying more alimony, and it could mean a loss of income for the lower-earning spouse.
The Legislature is being encouraged by some New Yorkers to look at drafting new alimony guidelines when it is back in session in the new year.
If you are divorcing in 2019, be sure to have an experienced divorce attorney and team on your side.