December 2, 2010

Divorce Judgment Timing and Tax Filing Status

When representing clients with Oregon divorce cases, we get a lot of questions about divorce and tax filings.   There seems to be a lot of confusion about when you can file jointly with a spouse and when you can file separately.  Your marital status for tax filing is set as of the last day of the year.  If you are married on December 31 of a tax year, you must file married filing jointly or separately. However, if you are divorced as of December 31, you must file as single taxpayers for that year, even if you and your spouse lived together as a married couple more than half the year.

Divorcing couples should analyze the tax benefits and detriments of filing married or filing single, because they have some control over filing status if a divorce gets finalized around the end of a tax year.  For those who want to file separate, the deadline creates a rush on many courthouses at the end of the year in an effort to get a judgment signed before December 31, 2010.  In some local counties, you can appear in front of a judge and get a divorce judgment signed on a specific date.  In Multnomah County, Oregon’s most populous county, divorce judgments are not submitted directly to a judge but  rather through the court clerk’s office, which must process them.  Processing can take time. This year, the court has set a deadline of December 10, 2010 for submission of final judgments if a party wants to be legally divorced by December 31, 2010.

Talk with your attorney early about estimated completion dates for the divorce, and get advice from your CPA early about the consequences of filing status.