Anderson v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2016-47, 2016 WL 976816 (2016)
Facts: An Alabama court entered a pretrial order in a divorce case, requiring both parties to “[m]aintain status quo as to payment of house note or rent, utilities, food, necessities, fixed credit obligations, ” 2016 WL 976816, at *1. After the order was entered, the husband transferred at least $1,000 each month to the wife “for her spending money and other things that I had previously paid for.” Id.
The husband took an alimony deduction for the amounts paid. When the IRS did not allow the deduction, the husband then appealed to the Tax Court.
Issue: Were the payments alimony for federal tax purposes?
Answer to Issue: Summary of Rationale: The first requirement in the federal definition of alimony states that it must be received under a “divorce or separation ” I.R.C. § 71(b)(1)(A). A “divorce or separation instrument” includes “a decree of divorce or separate maintenance or a written instrument incident to such a decree.” Id. § 71(b)(2)(A). A pretrial order is not a divorce decree, but it is a written instrument incident to such a decree. Thus, the premarital order was a divorce or separation instrument.
The pretrial order directed the husband to maintain the status quo. The husband testified that the payments were intended to cover things he had previously paid for. He was therefore maintaining the status quo, as required by the order, so that the payments were received under a court order. There is no requirement that the divorce or separation instrument list the specific exact amount of support required.
The pretrial order did not specify whether the payments stopped upon death. But the payments occurred periodically, so they were periodic alimony, and Alabama case law stated clearly that periodic alimony ceases upon the death of the payee. Because the payments stopped upon death, they were alimony for purposes of federal tax law.
Lesson: Temporary support, alimony pendente lite, or postseparation support can all constitute alimony under federal tax law, so long as it is clear from the language of the agreement or the order, or from state law if the order is silent, that the obligation terminates upon death of the payee.
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