Can I Write Off My Child Support Payments on my Taxes?

Divorce and Children

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Quick answer:  No.


For a longer answer, you may want to know why.  Here’s the reasoning:  if you are married and living with your family and raising your children—there’s no deduction for paying for their school clothes or feeding them.  That’s pretty much what your child support payments are—feeding the kids and paying for clothes.  So whether you live with your kids, or live apart, the money that’s used for those day to day necessities is not a tax deductible expense.    You don’t get a deduction for paying it and your ex doesn’t claim it as taxable income.


What about alimony?  Alimony is different—you get to deduct alimony on your tax return if you pay it, and your ex has to claim the alimony as income.  Alimony counts as income so your ex will have to pay taxes on it. Alimony does not count as earned income for the earned income tax credit, but as one of my clients explained to me, “Oh, honey—trust me I EARNED it!”


You might be thinking that paying alimony is better than paying child support—but there’s a catch to that thinking.  If the “alimony” ends when the kids turn 18— the IRS will call it child support anyway so you lose all the tax advantages.  Alimony basically goes for the life of your ex or until a re-marriage occurs.   So while alimony has some tax advantages—child support at least has an end date.  (There are some cases where alimony is only paid for a limited time, but it has to be very separate and distinct from any type of child support to be valid for tax purposes.)


Some people pay both alimony and child support.  In a case like that you can deduct the alimony portion of your payment on your tax return.  Now it’s important to know—if you fall behind on your payments—the IRS assumes that you pay the child support first.  For example:  Let say you pay $300 a month in child support and $200 a month in alimony.  For the year you pay $6000 all together:  $3,600 in child support and $2,400 in alimony.  You’ll take a $2,400 deduction for the alimony on your tax return.


Now, what happens if you lost your job and didn’t make any payments in November and December of the tax year?  You would have paid $5,000 total, right?  ($500 times 10 months)  And $2,000 of that was for alimony.  But according to the IRS—you pay the child support first.  So of the $5,000 that you did pay, $3,600 went towards the child support and you only get to deduct $1,400 (the amount that’s left) for the alimony.  So make sure that you’re all paid up before the end of the year if you want to deduct all of the alimony on your tax return.


If your hungry for more, try to put icing on the cake.

Missouri Seniors May Want to File Separately

If you’re married and receiving a public pension or social security in Missouri, it may make sense for you to file your tax return as married filing separately instead of jointly.  It sort of defies the conventional wisdom of tax preparation, but it’s worth checking out.

Usually, as in 99.5% of the time, a married couple is better off filing a joint return, at least as far as their federal tax return is concerned.  But often times, especially when there are no dependents claimed on the return, the difference is negligible if anything.   It’s just natural to file a tax return jointly because it’s easier and usually cost effective.  But most tax software programs that do a “married filing jointly (MFJ) vs married filing separately (MFS)” comparison analysis usually don’t include the state results in the analysis. 

If you live in Missouri, and you both have a public pension, you’ll want to take a closer look at the potential difference.  Here’s why:  If you’re married and your combined income exceeds $100,000, your public pension exemption becomes limited.  If you change your status to MFS, you each are allowed income of $85,000 before any limitations kick in.    The higher your income, the more you’re going to want to consider splitting your return.  Now remember, this works for public pensions and social security, if you have a private pension, the rules are different and there’s no tax benefit to filing separately.

Public pensions are pensions from government organizations such as the military, the postal service, or state or local governments.  Teacher pensions are considered to be public pensions.  Private pensions are from corporations like Boeing or Nestle.  If you’re not sure what kind of pension you have, call your plan administrator. 

Let’s say for example that you and your wife are retired school teachers–meaning that you both have public pensions.  Your income is $70,000 and your wifes’ is $74,000.  Combined, you’re well above the $100,000 limitation.  Because you’ve exceeded the income limitation, your pension exemption is limited to $23,406.  If you filed separately, the income limitation would be $85,000–which you’d both be under, and you’d each get a pension exemption for $33,703 (or a total of $67,406.)  That’s a difference of $44,000!  Compute that out at the 6% tax rate for Missouri and you’ll have saved $2,610. 

That’s a big difference.  Using the standard “MFJ vs MFS” calculator for the federal return, I showed that with the married filing separately status, you’d owe an extra $12.  I’ll gladly pay $12 to save $2600.  But without doing the extra work, I wouldn’t have known there was that huge difference.

While the take home tax software products are really good, this is one of those situations where you can miss out on a major tax savings.  You have to know about the public pension exemption.  You have to know about the different income limitations.  And most importantly, you have to actively set up and do the work to make sure you don’t miss this opportunity.  If you think you might be missing out on important deductions like this one, maybe it’s time to set up an appointment with a professional.