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What is alimony?

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Question
What is alimony?

Answer

Alimony is deductible by the payer and must be included in the spouse's or former spouse's income. Although this answer is generally written for the payer of the alimony, the recipient can use the information to determine whether an amount received is alimony.

To be alimony, a payment must meet certain requirements. Different requirements apply to payments under instruments executed after 1984 and to payments under instruments executed before 1985. This answer discusses the rules for payments under instruments executed after 1984. For the rules for payments under pre-1985 instruments, see Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals on the official IRS site.

You do not have to itemize deductions to claim your alimony payments. You may claim the deduction on Form 1040. You must provide the social security number of the spouse or former spouse receiving the payments. If you don't, you may have to pay a $50 penalty and your deduction may be disallowed.

Definitions
Spouse or former spouse. Unless otherwise stated in the following discussions about alimony, the term "spouse" includes former spouse.

Divorce or separation instrument. The term "divorce or separation instrument" means:

  • A decree of divorce or separate maintenance or a written instrument incident to that decree,
  • A written separation agreement, or
  • A decree or any type of court order requiring a spouse to make payments for the support or maintenance of the other spouse. This includes a temporary decree, an interlocutory (not final) decree, and a decree of alimony pendente lite (while awaiting action on the final decree or agreement).

General Rules
The following rules apply to alimony regardless of when the divorce or separation instrument was executed.

Payments Considered Alimony
Alimony payments you make under a divorce or separation instrument, such as a divorce decree or a written agreement incident, are deductible if all of the following requirements are met:

  • You and your spouse or former spouse do not file a joint return with each other,
  • You pay in cash (including checks or money orders),
  • The divorce or separation instrument does not say that the payment is not alimony,
  • If legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance, you and your former spouse are not members of the same household when you make the payment,
  • You have no liability to make any payment (in cash or property) after the death of your spouse or former spouse; and  your payment is not treated as child support.

Payments Not Alimony
Not all payments under a divorce or separation instrument are alimony. Any payments not required by such a decree or agreement do not qualify as alimony. Alimony does not include any of the following:

  • Noncash property settlements 
  • Payments that are your spouse's part of community income. (See Community Property in Publication 504)
  • Payments to keep up the payer's property 
  • Use of property
     
  • Child support - Child support is never deductible. If your divorce decree or other written instrument or agreement

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Views: 720 Created on: Jun 15, 2013
Date updated: Oct 22, 2015

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