Same-sex couples who are registered domestic partners — or who married during the brief legal window — are facing a new, more complicated tax status, one that has raised a litany of expensive concerns. Many of these families will now have to pay for professional help to file by April 15.
The issues involve an IRS decision that affects the three states with both community-property laws and same-sex marriage or registered domestic partnerships: California, Nevada and Washington.
Married heterosexual couples in those states have long had the option of filing their federal taxes separately and splitting their earned incomes (community property) on their tax returns. If one person makes more than the other, splitting can result in paying lower taxes by taking the higher earnings down a tax bracket or more.
After gay rights advocates fought for five years, the IRS decision let the same rules apply to legally partnered same-sex couples — an estimated 60,000 in California. ... But carrying out the change has proved challenging. ... Same-sex couples do not have the option of waiting for these issues to be resolved. The decision on income-splitting appears to be mandatory and immediate. “I do not believe taxpayers can choose whether to follow the income-splitting rule,” Patricia Cain, a law school professor at Santa Clara University and leading expert on same-sex tax law, recently wrote. ...
Confusing and costly tax returns are not the only fallout from the IRS change; the policy has set off a chain reaction of other concerns. In a report to Congress last week, the federal Taxpayer Advocate Service put the situation in its “most serious problems” category, saying the change could have many unintended consequences, like on student loan eligibility and tax credits for same-sex couples.
The more we look at these complications in the details of how to apply the rules, the more obvious it is that it would be much easier for everyone, especially the IRS, if same-sex spouses and RDPs were entitled to the same rules as similarly-situated opposite-sex spouses. Some have argued that these tax complications are likely to play a pivotal role in leading us closer to true equality for same-sex couples.
I made that point myself a couple of nights ago at a community seminar on the new tax law. I was joined by three expert tax-return preparers, Karen Stogdill, Deb Kinney, and Chris Kollaja, who discussed a number of the complications. If you're interested, you might take a look at the webcast:
This paper describes the federal tax treatment of California registered domestic partners (RDPs) historically and prospectively. In May 2010 the federal government issued guidance that materially revised the government's prior position of ignoring state law property characterizations and determined that 'the federal tax treatment of community property should apply to California registered domestic partners.' The paper discusses the tax implications of this guidance on registered domestic partners in California and other community property states as well as for the 18,000 same-sex married couples in California. The guidance moves RDPs closer to tax equality with opposite sex married couples in California. Nevertheless, the guidance leaves many questions unanswered.