March 01, 2014

General Provision

Under the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, same-sex couples will now be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.

Any same-sex marriage legally entered into in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or a foreign country will be covered by the ruling. However, the ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

General Implications

Legally married same-sex couples generally must file their 2013 federal income tax return(s) using either the married filing jointly or married filing separately filing status.

Individuals who are in same-sex marriages may, but are not required to, file original or amended returns, choosing to be treated as married for federal tax purposes for one or more prior tax years still open under the statute of limitations.

Employees who purchased same-sex spouse health insurance coverage from their employers on an after-tax basis may treat the amounts paid for that coverage as pre-tax and excludable from income.

Specific Guidance

When are individuals of the same sex lawfully married for federal tax purposes?

For federal tax purposes, the IRS looks to state or foreign law to determine whether individuals are married. The IRS has a general rule recognizing a marriage of same-sex spouses that was validly entered into in a domestic or foreign jurisdiction whose laws authorize the marriage of two individuals of the same sex even if the married couple resides in a domestic or foreign jurisdiction that does not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.

Can same-sex spouses file federal tax returns using a married filing jointly or married filing separately status?

For tax year 2013 and going forward, same-sex spouses generally must file using a married filing separately or jointly filing status. For tax year 2012 and all prior years, same-sex spouses who file an original tax return on or after September 16, 2013 (the effective date of Rev. Rul. 2013-17), generally must file using a married filing separately or jointly filing status. For tax year 2012, same-sex spouses who filed their tax return before September 16, 2013, may choose (but are not required) to amend their federal tax returns to file using married filing separately or jointly filing status. For tax years 2011 and earlier, same-sex spouses who filed their tax returns timely may choose (but are not required) to amend their federal tax returns to file using married filing separately or jointly filing status provided the period of limitations for amending the return has not expired. A taxpayer generally may file a claim for refund for three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later.

Taxpayers who wish to file a refund claim for income taxes should use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Taxpayers who wish to file a refund claim for gift or estate taxes should file Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement.

Can a taxpayer and his or her same-sex spouse file a joint return if they were married in a state that recognizes samesex marriages but they live in a state that does not recognize their marriage?

For federal tax purposes, the IRS has a general rule recognizing a marriage of same-sex individuals that was validly entered into in a domestic or foreign jurisdiction whose laws authorize the marriage of two individuals of the same sex even if the married couple resides in a domestic or foreign jurisdiction that does not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.

Can a taxpayer’s same-sex spouse be a dependent of the taxpayer?

No. A taxpayer’s spouse cannot be a dependent of the taxpayer.

Can a same-sex spouse file using head of household filing status?

A taxpayer who is married cannot file using head of household filing status. However, a married taxpayer may be considered unmarried and may use the head-of-household filing status if the taxpayer lives apart from his or her spouse for the last six months of the taxable year and provides more than half the cost of maintaining a household that is the principal place of abode of the taxpayer’s dependent child for more than half of the year.

If same-sex spouses (who file using the married filing separately status) have a child, which parent may claim the child as a dependent?

If a child is a qualifying child under section 152(c) of both parents who are spouses (who file using the married filing separate status), either parent, but not both, may claim a dependency deduction for the qualifying child. If both parents claim a dependency deduction for the child on their income tax returns, the IRS will treat the child as the qualifying child of the parent with whom the child resides for the longer period of time during the taxable year. If the child resides with each parent for the same amount of time during the taxable year, the IRS will treat the child as the qualifying child of the parent with the higher adjusted gross income.

Can a taxpayer who is married to a person of the same sex claim the standard deduction if the taxpayer’s spouse itemized deductions?

No. If a taxpayer’s spouse itemized his or her deductions, the taxpayer cannot claim the standard deduction (IRC section 63(c)(6)(A)).

If a taxpayer adopts the child of his or her same-sex spouse as a second parent or co-parent, may the taxpayer (“adopting parent”) claim the adoption credit for the qualifying adoption expenses he or she pays or incurs to adopt the child?

No. The adopting parent may not claim an adoption credit. A taxpayer may not claim an adoption credit for expenses incurred in adopting the child of the taxpayer’s spouse (IRC section 23).

Do provisions of the federal tax law such as section 66 (treatment of community income) and section 469(i)(5) ($25,000 offset for passive activity losses for rental real estate activities) apply to same-sex spouses?

Yes. Like other provisions of the federal tax law that apply to married taxpayers, section 66 and section 469(i)(5) apply to same-sex spouses because same-sex spouses are married for all federal tax purposes.

If an employer provided health coverage for an employee’s same-sex spouse and included the value of that coverage in the employee’s gross income, can the employee file an amended Form 1040 reflecting the employee’s status as a married individual to recover federal income tax paid on the value of the health coverage of the employee’s spouse?

Yes, for all years for which the period of limitations for filing a claim for refund is open. Generally, a taxpayer may file a claim for refund for three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. If an employer provided health coverage for an employee’s same-sex spouse, the employee may claim a refund of income taxes paid on the value of coverage that would have been excluded from income had the employee’s spouse been recognized as the employee’s legal spouse for tax purposes. This claim for a refund generally would be made through the filing of an amended Form 1040.

Example: Employer sponsors a group health plan covering eligible employees and their dependents and spouses (including samesex spouses). Fifty percent of the cost of health coverage elected by employees is paid by Employer. Employee A was married to same-sex Spouse B at all times during 2012. Employee A elected coverage for Spouse B through Employer’s group health plan beginning January 1, 2012. The value of the employer-funded portion of Spouse B’s health coverage was $250 per month.

The amount in Box 1, “Wages, tips, other compensation,” of the 2012 Form W-2 provided by Employer to Employee A included $3,000 ($250 per month x 12 months) of income reflecting the value of employer-funded health coverage provided to Spouse B. Employee A filed Form 1040 for the 2012 taxable year reflecting the Box 1 amount reported on Form W-2.

Employee A may file an amended Form 1040 for the 2012 taxable year excluding the value of Spouse B’s employer-funded health coverage ($3,000) from gross income.

If an employer sponsored a cafeteria plan that allowed employees to pay premiums for health coverage on a pre-tax basis, can a participating employee file an amended return to recover income taxes paid on premiums that the employee paid on an after-tax basis for the health coverage of the employee’s same-sex spouse?

Yes, for all years for which the period of limitations for filing a claim for refund is open. Generally, a taxpayer may file a claim for refund for three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. If an employer sponsored a cafeteria plan under which an employee elected to pay for health coverage for the employee on a pre-tax basis, and if the employee purchased coverage on an after-tax basis for the employee’s same-sex spouse under the employer’s health plan, the employee may claim a refund of income taxes paid on the premiums for the coverage of the employee’s spouse. This claim for a refund generally would be made through the filing of an amended Form 1040.

Example: Employer sponsors a group health plan as part of a calendar year cafeteria plan. The full cost of spousal and dependent coverage is paid by the employees. In the open enrollment period for the 2012 plan year, Employee C elected to purchase selfonly health coverage through salary reduction under Employer’s cafeteria plan. On March 1, 2012, Employee C was married to same-sex Spouse D. Employee C purchased health coverage for Spouse D through Employer’s group health plan beginning March 1, 2012. The premium paid by Employee C for Spouse D’s health coverage was $500 per month.

The amount in Box 1, “Wages, tips, other compensation,” of the 2012 Form W-2 provided by Employer to Employee C included the $5,000 ($500 per month x 10 months) of premiums paid by Employee C for Spouse D’s health coverage. Employee C filed Form 1040 for the 2012 taxable year reflecting the Box 1 amount reported on Form W-2.

Employee C’s salary reduction election is treated as including the value of the same-sex spousal coverage purchased for Spouse D. Employee C may file an amended Form 1040 for the 2012 taxable year excluding the premiums paid for Spouse D’s health coverage ($5,000) from gross income.

If a sole proprietor employs his or her same-sex spouse in his or her business, can the sole proprietor get a refund of Social Security, Medicare, and Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) taxes on the wages that the sole proprietor paid to the same-sex spouse as an employee in the business?

Services performed by an employee in the employment of his or her spouse are excluded from the definition of employment for purposes of the FUTA. Therefore, for all years for which the period of limitations is open, the sole proprietor can claim a refund of the FUTA tax paid on the compensation that the sole proprietor paid his or her same-sex spouse as an employee in the business. Services of a spouse are excluded from Social Security and Medicare taxes only if the services are not in the course of the employer’s trade or business, or if it is domestic service in a private home of the employer.

Conclusion

As more states recognize same-sex marriages, there will inevitably be same-sex divorce. The tax benefits afforded divorcing couples will then be extended to same-sex divorces.

Author:

Mary V. Ade