With Apologies to Dear Amy: Tax Advice for Couples with Marital Problems – Part 1
Question: My wife absolutely refuses to sign our joint income tax return, just because our marriage may be going down the tubes. What can I do?
Answer: Nothing. A joint return must be signed by both spouses, even if only one had income. Because your wife is unwilling to sign a joint return, you must each file a separate return if either had income of more than $4,000 for 2015.
Q: My husband and I went to a counseling center run by our church. We spoke to a clergyman about some of our marital problems. Because of his counseling, both of us definitely feel that our mental outlook is improved and that we are enjoying a more pleasant relationship. We would, however, feel even better if we could be certain that the IRS would permit us to take a deduction for the counseling fees, as well as our travel expenses to and from counseling. Will it?
A: No. IRS Revenue Ruling 75-319 concerned a situation identical to yours. The IRS concluded that the counseling “was not to prevent or alleviate a physical or mental defect or illness,” but to help improve the marriage. Therefore, it makes no difference that both of you are healthier persons because of the counseling. The cost isn’t a deductible medical expense. Nor will the IRS allow you to write off the cost as a charitable contribution even though the counseling center is run by a church.
The deduction would qualify as a medical expense if the marriage counselor restyles himself or herself as a therapist in sexual inadequacy and incompatibility. Therapy for sexual disorders, sex addiction, and other disorder-related therapy is deductible as a medical expense.
Q: Because of marital problems, my husband and I filed separate returns last year. Now that we have reconciled, can we switch to a joint return for that year?
A: Yes, provided you do so by filing an amended return within three years from the filing deadline (not including any extensions) for your return. You can’t do the reverse – that is, if you file jointly, you can’t switch to separate returns once the filing deadline has passed. That election is binding on you.
Q: We filed jointly and then divorced. Now my former husband threatens to disavow our joint return and file a separate return. Can he get away with forcing me to pay more taxes?
A: Relax. It’s too late now for him to switch from filing jointly to separately.
Q: Suppose I file separately and claim all of our itemized deductions. Can my husband file using the standard deduction available to someone who doesn’t itemize?
A: The IRS figured out what to do about that a long time ago. Both spouses must use the same method of handling deductions. If you itemize, so must he.
Q: Because of my problems as a transsexual, I plan to undergo a sex-change operation. Can I count on a medical deduction for this expensive procedure?
A: Deductibility depends on whether this kind of operation qualifies as medical care. Make sure to get a written statement from your doctor to help support the deduction. And don’t overlook your transportation to and from the hospital. That’s also deductible.
About the author:
Julian Block writes and practices law in Larchmont, New York, and was formerly with the IRS as a special agent (criminal investigator) and an attorney. More on this topic is available from “Julian Block’s Year Round Tax Strategies,” available at julianblocktaxexpert.com.
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Playing Detective: Using Tax Returns to Uncover Hidden Divorce Assets
How to Get Tax Breaks on Divorce