With children and income issues on top of the list of critical concerns, health insurance is often overlooked by divorcing individuals, their divorce mediators and divorce lawyers . Everyone agrees that health insurance is important, but expects or hopes that a solution will find itself.
In the case when one of the divorcing parties has employer provided health insurance, it is assumed that this will continue for the divorcing spouse, as mandated by Massachusetts law. In addition,, people usually don’t think of the tax consequences of continuing employer based health insurance for a divorcing spouse . That is because employer based health insurance is considered a non-taxable fringe benefit for the employee and his or her family under IRS rules. Yet that does not necessarily imply a tax free benefit for an ex-spouse.
Under IRS rules, a benefit provided by an employer to the former spouse of an employee, is a taxable benefit to the employee. Hence the employee must pay federal income tax on his ex-spouse’s health insurance. In turn that imputed income could be deducted as alimony by the taxed employee. That would create additional taxable income for the ex-spouse.
Under IRS rules, a benefit provided by an employer to the former spouse of an employee, is a taxable benefit to the employee
To make matters worse, employers are just waking up to the issue. Starting in 2013, employers have started to apportion the value of fringe benefits on employees’ W2 forms. This will greatly facilitate including an ex-spouse’s share of health care insurance on the employee’s W2 form in January 2014, and, thus increase the employee’s taxable income. In turn, should the employee deduct the insurance as alimony, the ex-spouse must add the amount to his or her own taxable income, or face the consequences of under-reporting income.
In a divorce negotiation where the amount of alimony and the sharing of tax benefits are vigorously negotiated between the parties, to add health insurance choices and their consequences to the menu may not be welcome. It would be hardly better, for the parties find out the consequences after the fact.
As financial planners with a divorce specialty, we recommend that the ex-spouse should get his or her own insurance as soon as possible. That is not always feasible in the short run. As an alternative, we recommend to choose the best option available with all eyes open to the consequences.
If you would like to learn more, ask for the white paper that I co-authored with Justin Kelsey, Esq., or call one of the authors for a consultation.