IRS Guidance on Same-Sex Marriages

Gina Deveney
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Accounting professionals help companies and individuals alike when it comes time to file taxes. Changes to existing law can have a profound effect on the amounts owed by and even the profitability of a company or individual. Recent changes to same-sex marriage laws in America have resulted in a major overhaul of Internal Revenue Service guidelines regarding married couples. The IRS now has very specific guidelines for those legally married in either states or foreign lands that recognize same-sex marriage. Its new guidelines are a major departure from earlier same-sex marriage laws regarding the same topic.

Under the new same-sex marriage laws, married couples must either file as married filing separately or married filing jointly. Guidelines do not allow married couples to represent themselves as single under the new tax laws. This rule applies for anyone married in a state or foreign jurisdiction where same-sex marriage laws allow for such a union. Even those who live in states where their marriages are unrecognized by state officials must file their federal taxes under one of the two available married options. Accountants should note, however, that many states where same-sex marriages are not recognized still require same-sex couples to file state taxes as single individuals.

The new tax laws regarding same-sex marriages also include provisions related to taxation and children. If the spouses are filing separately, either one may choose to claim tax credits for children that are part of the relationship. Only one spouse can choose this option, not both. In addition, tax credits related to adoption fees and expenses do not apply to the adoption of one same-sex spouse's children by the other spouse. These are important distinctions for accountants who may help file family taxes, especially for large households or those where the relationships of the children to the parents may be complicated by earlier marriages or custody issues.

The rules for same-sex marriages also fall in line with those for traditional couples when it comes to itemized deductions and retirement or healthcare costs. A spouse may not claim the standard deduction if the other spouse has opted to itemize. Similarly, tax credits related to purchasing real estate, making retirement contributions, and covering the costs of healthcare under business or private plans apply to same-sex couples as well as traditional marriages. These rules may allow some accountants to find more options for lessening the tax burdens for those they assist with filing taxes.

The changes to the IRS laws regarding same-sex couples are a major shift in policy from the same-sex marriage laws of the past. Understanding these changes can help ensure that you assist your clients with the best possible information when filing their taxes for 2013 and beyond. Knowledge of the changes to same-sex marriage laws may also help couples with preparing for the future, especially when it comes to claiming deductions and credits or making retirement savings plans.

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