Taxable Alimony, Nontaxable Child Support

Posted by & filed under Alimony / Spousal Maintenance, Child support.

The tax consequences of child support and alimony (spousal maintenance) are different.  Child support has no tax consequences, which is to say that child support is not taxable to the recipient, and not deductible from the income of the payor.  Typically, however, spousal maintenance is taxable to the recipient, and deductible from the taxable income of the payor. 

If a court order provides for one party to pay child support of $1,500 per month, and maintenance of $750 per month, on paper that combines to be $2,250.  Assume that one’s combined state and federal taxes are at a rate of 33% of total income.  Since the payor will save approximately $250 on taxes (due to deducting the $750 from taxable income) and the receiver will incur approximately $250 in taxes (due to including the $750 in taxable income), the net amount of the $2,250 in combined payments is closer to $2,000.

If the court order instead provides for the party to pay child support of $750 per month, and maintenance of $1,500 per month, on paper that combines to be the same $2,250.  But the net amount is closer to $1,750, due to the approximately $500 in tax on the $1,500 in maintenance.

Moreover, if the party paying the support and maintenance is in a higher tax bracket than the party receiving the payments, the parties can mutually enjoy a net benefit.  Assume that the payor is in a tax bracket that results in a 33% tax liability, and the receiver is in a tax bracket that results in a $20% tax liability.  In the first example above, if the payor saves $250 on tax, the net effect to the payor is a combined expense of $2,000.  At the same time, the receiver may incur tax of only $150, so that the net effect to the receiver is a combined receipt of $2,100.  Together, the parties save $100 per month in taxes.

The net benefit increases with the second example ($750 child support, $1,500 maintenance).  If the payor saves $500 on taxes, the net expense is $1,750.  But if the receiver incurs tax of only $300, the net receipt is $1,950.  Together, the parties save $200 per month in taxes. 

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