Your first tax return after your divorce is going to be a challenging one. That’s going to be true whether you were the one who always did the taxes during the marriage or the one who left that to your spouse.
It’s probably wise to work with a tax professional – and not the one you and your spouse always used. It will cost you more than doing your taxes yourself, but you may save more than that fee and avoid costly errors. Every situation is different, but here are some key issues you may need to consider:
Choosing your filing status
If your divorce was final before Jan. 1 of this year, you will file as single or head of household. You can file as head of household if a qualifying dependent, such as a child, lived with you for over 50% of the year.
Determine who’s claiming the children as dependents
You and your ex-spouse can’t both claim them, even if you’re sharing custody evenly. If you are the custodial parent and have the kids the majority of the time, you can claim them. If you and your ex are splitting custody 50-50, you can each claim them every other year.
If it’s more financially prudent for your ex to claim them even though they don’t have primary custody, you need to fill out an IRS form for them to submit with their return (and vice versa if you’re the noncustodial parent claiming them).
Be sure the name on your taxes matches your Social Security card
If you changed your last name with the divorce, you should have notified the Social Security Administration (SSA) to get an updated card. The name you use on your tax forms needs to match the one the SSA has.
Protect yourself if your ex owes the IRS money
Sometimes, people don’t find out that their spouse didn’t report their full income on their joint taxes or that they have other debts they owe the IRS until they divorce. If that’s the case, you can ask the IRS for injured spouse relief. If that’s granted, you can protect your money from being taken to pay your ex’s debts.
If you’re still in the process of divorce or haven’t begun yet, it may be wise to have a tax professional on your team. Your family law attorney can likely recommend someone.