Who Claims the Children as Dependents for Tax Purposes?

About this time of year, separated parents sometimes ask us who can claim the children on their taxes.  Many parents simply agree that the parent that would get the most benefit can claim the children.  Other parents have provisions in their orders directing the parties to claim or not to claim the children on their taxes.  But what about when there is no agreement?

The position the IRS takes is that the person having the children more than half the year can claim the children.  IRS Publication 504.

This means that the custodial parent, or the parent the children live with primarily, can claim the exemption.

So what happens if your orders say that one parent gets to claim the children and the other parent files first, claiming the children?  Realistically, the parent that should have been able to claim the children is going to have a hard time.  They will need to work with the IRS, the other party, and possibly an attorney well-versed in tax law to correct the issue.  The parent could also file an enforcement action or sue for the lost benefit.  The easiest way to avoid the issue?  Speak with the other parent, or make sure you file first.

What is a social study?

When parents can’t agree on who the kids will live with the Court will normally order a social study be conducted. This allows for a non-party, a trained professional, to look at the situation, the concerns of each party, and make a recommendation to the Court.  That recommendation is the social study.

This expert will interview each party as well as watch the interactions between the parties and the kids. They will normally also interview other children or adults that are living in the residences of the parties (should there be any) and do a home visit of each parties home to make sure it is appropriate / safe for the children.

Once the expert is done, they draft the social study. In some jurisdictions, only the attorneys and the judge will see the result.  This is because there have been times when parties have not liked the results of the social study and either share them with the children or even take out their frustrations on the children.

If you are going through a social study, be honest, participate fully, and make sure you comply fully with any requests. Talk with your attorney if you have questions.

A quick overview of the process in Dallas County can be found here.

HEALTH REIMBURSEMENT: DON’T FORGET TO SUBMIT YOUR RECEIPTS!

This is a guest post from Attorney Kevin Segler, also at Holmes, Diggs & Eames.  Thank you, Kevin, for the article!

THE ISSUE:

If the party who incurs an unreimbursed health care expense for a child fails to submit the bill/receipt to the other party for reimbursement within the time period specified in the order, is the other party still required to reimburse for those health care expenses for which they received untimely notice?

HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO:

Mother and Father have one child and their Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship contains standard language regarding payment of unreimbursed health care expenses. The Order provides that “each party must pay 50 percent of the unreimbursed health care expenses. The party who incurs a health care expense on behalf of a child must submit to the other party all forms, receipts, bills, statements, and explanations of benefits reflecting the uninsured portion of the health care expenses within thirty (30) days after he or she receives them.”

The child is 15 at the time of the order. Five years later, Mother sends Father various bills and receipts for the child’s health care expenses she incurred when the child was 16. Father does not pay. A year after sending Father the bills, Mother files a Motion for Enforcement for a cumulative money judgment based on Father’s nonpayment of his 50% of the unreimbursed health care expenses for the child. Is Father still obligated to pay his 50% even though Mother did not submit the bills and receipts to him within 30 days after she received them?

Short Answer: It seems to be in the discretion of the trial court judge whether Father is obligated to pay.

THE STATUTE:

The Texas Family Code §154.183(c)(1)-(2) states:

(c) As additional child support, the court shall allocate between the parties, according to their circumstances:

  1. The reasonable and necessary health care expenses, including vision and dental expenses, of the child that are not reimbursed by health insurance or are not otherwise covered by the amount of cash medical support ordered under Section 154.182(b)(3); and

  2. Amounts paid by either party as deductibles or copayments in obtaining health care services for the child covered under a health insurance policy.”

Remember, obligations under this section are considered child support and are treated the same as periodic child support payments in that the penalties and limitations periods are the same for enforcement purposes.

THE CASE LAW:

While there are no Texas Supreme Court opinions on this issue, several appellate courts have addressed the topic.

In re A.C.B., 302 S.W.3d 560 (Tex.App.—Amarillo 2009, no pet.)

In 2009, the Amarillo Court of Appeals upheld a trial court ruling that allowed reimbursement for bills despite one party missing the deadline to submit receipts. The order in A.C.B. gave the paying party a ten-day window to provide bills/receipts to the other party. Mother testified that she provided one bill to father within the ten-day window required by the order but there were several bills that were not presented by the deadline.

Even though mother failed to provide the majority of the bills and receipts to father within the ten-day notice period provided in the order, the appellate court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding mother 50 percent of unreimbursed medical expenses. The court reasoned that even if mother failed to provide copies of the medical bills within the ten-day deadline established by the modification order, each parent is obligated to support his or her child during the child’s minority and is liable to any other person, including the other parent, who provides necessities for that child.

In re L.L., 341 S.W.3d 22 (Tex.App.—San Antonio 2010, no pet.)

However, one year later the San Antonio Court of Appeals reached an opposite result. When the father in L.L. submitted receipts for his child’s oral surgery two months after the deadline specified in the final order, the appellate court determined the trial court’s denial of father’s request for reimbursement for the surgery was not an abuse of discretion because father failed to provide timely notice of the expense as required by the decree.

Father argued that mother was still responsible for reimbursement because she had a duty to support the children regardless of whether he provided notice pursuant to the decree, relying on In re A.C.B. (discussed above). The L.L. court disagreed, noting that because the trial court chose to enforce the notice requirement contained in the decree, the trial court never acted in an arbitrary manner or failed to follow guiding principles.

Herzfeld v. Herzfeld, 05-10-01298-CV, 2012 WL 6061772 (Tex. App.—Dallas Dec. 6, 2012, no. pet. h.) (NOT REPORTED IN S.W.3d (2012))

The Herzfeld court agreed with the San Antonio Court of Appeals in holding a trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying mother’s request for medical expense reimbursement. While there was evidence from mother that the children saw a psychologist, there was no evidence as to the number of appointments nor was there any definitive testimony regarding the amount owed to the doctor.

Mother testified from memory that both of the children saw a psychologist an average of twice a month, presumably every month from the time of the separation until they turned eighteen. She sought $200 per month pre-divorce and $100 a month post-divorce.

However, there was no evidence Wife timely notified Husband of the payments made and no evidence of the dates on which they were made. Furthermore, the trial court found evidence as to an actual amount was “speculative” because there were no records of visits by date or by child. Given the absence of any other proof to corroborate Wife’s testimony regarding the number of children’s visits, when they occurred, or the cost of each visit, the court upheld the trial court’s decision in concluding the amount was speculative.

CONCLUSION

The classic (and often frustrating) response to many legal questions is “it depends.” It appears that answer also applies here. The one consistency in all three of the above cases is each appellate court’s reluctance to overturn the lower court’s ruling. The trial court’s decision hinges on accepting the “each parent is obligated to support his or her child” argument versus the “strict adherence to the deadline” stance. Just to be on the safe side, one should always submit any health care bills or receipts to the other parent before the deadline passes.

Contracts with Lawyers (2 of 3)

Post two of three deals with flat fee contracts.  These are the simplest contracts.  You pay the lawyer a set amount for a legal matter and that is it – no variance for how successful or not the case turns out.

Flat fee contracts are typically used for situations where the legal work/time/fees needed is easily determined.  Common cases would be a no-contest divorce or a criminal matter.

The problem with flat fee contracts is that most are nonrefundable, and the contract spells out the terms of the representation.  If your case evolves outside of the contract, you lose that money and the representation.  For example, you pay a flat fee for a no-contest divorce, then it becomes contested.  At that point, your lawyer is free to step out because the contract states his representation is only for a no-contest divorce, which no longer applies.  Should a situation like that arise, most lawyers are happy to renegotiate the contract, but do not expect another flat fee!

As always, read the contract closely.  Each contract can vary so pay close attention to the terms.  If you have a question, ask!  Your lawyer would rather have you understand the contract and the process up front so that both of you know what to expect.

Retainer Contracts: Contracts with Lawyers (1 of 3)

Contingency Fee Contracts: Contracts with Lawyers (3 of 3)

How to Change Contractual Alimony

First, make sure the clause you are looking to change is contractual alimony and not spousal support. You can get an idea by looking at my post here.

If it is contractual, read on!

Changing contractual alimony in Texas is not easy. It follows contract law, so typically you need the written agreement of both parties.  You need to look carefully at the terms and conditions of the payments first, and see if there is a built in way to modify or terminate the payments.  If not or the terms do not apply, you are going to need to talk to the ex-spouse.

Why would an ex-spouse agree to change the spousal payments?  Sometimes out of the goodness of their hearts… or perhaps you offer them something of value – some ideas:

  1. More money over a longer period of time so that the payments are smaller;
  2. Less money but in a lump sum payment;
  3. Other property can be used as well; or
  4. An offer to pay off debts incurred jointly or by the other party during the marriage.

We have also seen other consideration given, like the addition/modification of a geographic residency requirement or exchange points.  In the end, the deal is up to the parties, with very few exceptions.

Another method would be to attack it as you would a contract.  This is much more involved, and more difficult.

If you have a question or want advise about a particular situation, email or call – we can help!

Standard Possession Order for 2013

Since we started a new year, I thought the most useful thing to do was post a link to a standard visitation calendar for 2013.

Click OAG’s 2013 SPO Calendar

Of course, the above calendar won’t take into account all of the summer visitation or school holidays – you will have to spend some time doing that.  Here is a good website to help.

Last, click here for a more in-depth discussion of the Texas Standard Possession Order.

Wage Withholding for Contractual Alimony – No longer!

A Texas Court of Appeals held that a wage withholding order cannot be used to collect contractual alimony.  This adds yet another difference between court-ordered spousal maintenance and contractual alimony for both clients and lawyers to know about and discuss.

The full opinion can be found here.

The most interesting part is that this invalidates Texas Family Code §8.101(b) to the extent it authorized wage-withholding for contractual alimony.  The basis?  Unconstitutional under Texas Constitution Article XVI, §28, which states that current wages for personal service are not subject to garnishment, except for the enforcement of court-ordered child support or spousal maintenance!

Want to Change Child Support? Know the A, B, C’s…

Changing a child support payment (whether your’s or your ex’s) is certainly possible, just make sure that all the bases are covered.  Let’s look at the first group of steps needed, which can be found in Texas Family Code section 156.401(a).

  1. A “material and substantial change in circumstances” is needed.  Here, we need it to be a financial change (either earning power or monetary need).
  2. Those circumstances must relate to the child or a person affected by the order.
  3. The change in circumstance must have occurred after the signing of the order.

With the above set of facts, changing that child support payment becomes possible.  At the hearing, the above must be shown.  Simple testimony is not always enough.  The best way would be to show tax returns or pay stubs showing income at the time of the signing of the order, then current tax returns or pay stubs.

For an interesting case showing this process, look at In the Interest of C.H.C. by clicking the name of the case.

Fraudulent Marriage – Annulled!

Ever hear of a marriage based on lies and deceit?  I think everyone has, but never have I seen it laid out as clearly as is done in the opinion below:

Montenegro v. Avila

In this case, a man and woman met on an internet dating site.  The man initially claimed to be an engineer in Florida while the woman honestly stated she lived in El Paso.  The man finally, after they began to talk about meeting, told her that he could not visit her in Texas because he was in Bogota, Colombia, and could not get a visa.  The couple met in Mexico, where the man proposed.  He was turned down, but did get $200 to make his way back home. Later that same year, the woman traveled to Colombia, was proposed to, and accepted.

Man, now Husband, gets woman, now Wife, to apply for a visa for him.  He gets to the United States, get Wife to open bank accounts in both of their names, and begins withdrawing funds.  He doesn’t work until almost a year later, but instead begins the residency process.  On and on it goes…

Then Husband finds out about the Violence Against Women Act and how it can be twisted to circumvent the typical visa/residence restrictions.  The same day he learns about this he turns himself into a domestic violence center and reported he was being abused physically, verbally, mentally, and sexually.  He eventually leaves with the money he’s taken and other ill-gotten goods and moves to another city.

Wife filed for annulment, he filed for divorced.  Guess who won?  Wife – the marriage was annulled on the grounds of fraud.  Very interesting.  I’m not an immigration attorney, but I’ll bet that if that marriage visa was based on fraud, as could be concluded by the annulment being granted, he would probably have to leave the country, hence his need to appeal and our ability to read a very interesting appellate decision describing this case!

How to Pursue Contractual Alimony and the Remedies Available

Before reading this post, make sure you know if the payments are contractual alimony or spousal maintenance.  My prior post on the topic should help.

If a spouse (now ex-spouse) fails to pay contractual alimony, your remedies are the same as if they had breached any other contract.  You look for the damages you suffer, which include both the payments outlined in the decree that the ex-spouse has not paid, any foreseeable damages, and attorney’s fees.

The missed payments should be easy to figure out.  Tally up the amounts the ex-spouse has not paid.

Attorney’s fees are available through the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 38.001.

Foreseeable damages would be any additional penalties, fines, and other monetary amounts that the spouse could have foreseen you would suffer by their non-payment.  For example, if the payments were known to be used to pay a mortgage, the paying spouse failed to make multiple payments, and the mortgage was foreclosed and the house lost, you could argue any additional penalties/fees, moving expenses, and perhaps other expenses were foreseeable and should be compensated.

Some issues for the suing party to consider are whether the ex breach the entire agreement or whether the breach was only of the specific payments not made.  Things get more complicated here, since sometimes parties argue the contract was modified by different events or a pattern of past behavior, as well as the more limited breach of an installment contract versus the total breach.  If arguments like this begin to surface, consult a lawyer familiar with this topic.  It will serve you well, and in this setting, contingency fee contracts or retainer agreements are both typically available, depending on the firm.

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