May 2020 : “Double Dipping”

View / Download May 2020 Article – PDF File

Tax Trends and Developments Column – Michigan Family Law Journal


Similar to Michigan law, the Ohio Court of Appeals rejected the arbitrary limiting of owner spouse’s income in determining spousal support to avoid “double dipping.” Kim v. Kim, 2020-Ohio-22 (1/8/2020).

Background

So-called “double dipping” occurs if these four conditions are met:

  1. The business or professional practice (enterprise) owned by one spouse (owner spouse) is valued by capitalizing excess earnings (or cash flow).
  2. Part of such excess earnings results from reducing owner spouse’s actual compensation from the enterprise to a “market” – or, “normal” level, reasonable compensation.
  3. The capitalized value of the enterprise is included in the marital estate divided between the parties.
  4. The total amount of the owner spouse’s compensation is included in determining income available for spousal support.

Example: H owns 100% of ABC Company (ABC). His average compensation from ABC is $200,000 annually. Reasonable compensation for his services, based on industry statistics, is $100,000.

If H’s actual compensation of $200,000 is used for determining spousal support, “double dipping” occurs since $100,000 of his actual compensation has been incorporated in the $1,200,000 value of ABC included in the marital estate divided between him and W. To avoid double dipping, H’s income for determining spousal support would be limited to $100,000.

Kim Case

Facts

  • H owns and works at two businesses from which his average compensation is $520,000 annually.
  • In calculating the value accepted by the trial court, H’s expert determined H’s “reasonable” or “market” compensation at $416,000.
  • The trial court used H’s total compensation – $520,000 – in determining spousal support.
  • It stated that, based on the circumstances of the case, equity does not require limiting H’s income for support purposes to avoid double dipping. In this regard, the court noted various factors indicating that H was in a much stronger financial position than W.
  • H appealed the court’s decision.

Court of Appeals Decision

  • The Court of Appeals (Court) upheld the trial court decision.
  • In so ruling, the Court stated that it agreed with the analysis made in another Ohio case that the statute “precludes an outright prohibition of double dipping” and that the trial should, “in the interest of equity,” consider the effects of double dipping.
  • In Kim, the Court noted that the trial court cited circumstances that were “overriding the unfairness of double dipping.”

Relevance to Michigan

Ohio, like Michigan, is an “equitable distribution” state. As we know, equitable distribution does not mean equal distribution to divorcing parties. Rather, trial courts have considerable discretion in tailoring a settlement to the equities of a case.

Double Dipping in Michigan – Loutts v. Loutts, Mich App No. 297427 (9/4/12)

  • The Michigan Court of Appeals (COA) published decision in Loutts is consistent with the Ohio Kim decision and COA decisions in four previous Michigan unpublished decisions on “double dipping.”
  • Essentially, the COA ruled that:
    • The effect of “double dipping” can be taken into account in determining spousal support to achieve a proper balancing of incomes and needs.
    • Hence, arbitrary limiting of the owner spouse’s income to avoid double dipping on a “bright line” basis is improper pursuant to MCL 552.23 and case precedents on using formulaic approaches to determining spousal support.
    • However, if not needed to achieve a proper balancing of incomes and needs, double dipping should be avoided.

About the Author

Joe Cunningham has over 25 years of experience specializing in financial and tax aspects of divorce, including business valuation, valuing and dividing retirement benefits, and developing settlement proposals. He has lectured extensively for ICLE, the Family Law Section, and the MACPA. Joe is also the author of numerous journal articles and chapters in family law treatises. His office is in Troy, though his practice is statewide.

Download the PDF file below… “Double Dipping”
View / Download May 2020 Article – PDF File

Complete Michigan Family Law Journal available at: Michigan Bar website – Family Law Section (subscription required)

Aug / Sept 2018 : Calculation of an Equitable Award for the Non-Degreed Spouse Under the POSTEMA Decision

View / Download Aug / Sept 2018 Article – PDF File

— Background on Postema

In 1991, the Court of Appeals set forth the divorce settlement remedy for a non-degreed spouse who made “sacrifices, efforts, and contributions” to enable the other spouse to attain an advanced degree and, often, professional training. Postema v. Postema, 189 Mich App 89 (1991) (“Postema”).

Prior to the Postema decision, there was a split among different Court of Appeals panels on the proper remedy for such a non-degreed spouse in cases in which a divorce prevents such spouse from sharing in the “fruits of the degree” after its attainment.

Some panels had decided that the non-degreed spouse is entitled to part of the “value of the degree” – that is, the present value of the difference between (1) projected earnings of the degreed spouse over his/her work life expectancy with the advanced degree and (2) projected earnings of such spouse without the advanced degree.

Other panels ruled that the non-degreed spouse was entitled to be reimbursed for sacrifices, efforts, and contributions
made, but not to a share of the value of the degree. To resolve the split, the Supreme Court ordered that the next case on the issue would become binding precedent on the appropriate remedy. That case was Postema.

The Court ruled in Postema that the purpose of an equitable award is to reimburse the “non-degreed” spouse for “sacrifices, efforts, and contributions” made to enable the other spouse to attain a professional degree. However, this does include a share of future incremental earnings attributable to the professional degree.

The Court stated an equitable award applies in situations in which “the degree was the product of a concerted family
effort.”

Components of a Postema Award

Under Postema, there are generally four components to be considered in calculating an equitable award.

  1. Lost or Forgone Earnings – The non-degreed spouse’s 50% marital share of the difference between (1) what the degreed spouse could have earned, after-tax, during years of education and training and (2) his or her actual aftertax earnings during those years.
  2. Cost of Education – The non-degreed spouse’s 50% share of the out-of-pocket costs of the education and training paid with marital funds
  3. Subordination of Career Aspirations – Compensation to the non-degreed spouse for the cost of either (1) not pursuing career aspirations or (2) delaying such pursuit solely due to allowing the degreed spouse to do so. The non-degreed spouse’s share of such “make-up” compensation is 50% for years during the marriage and, possibly, 100% of the present value of lost future earnings.
  4. Intangible Sacrifices, Efforts, and Contributions – Compensation to a non-degreed spouse for intangible sacrifices, efforts, and contributions such as loss of companionship, and additional time devoted to household/parenting responsibilities in excess of the normal time spent doing so, occasioned solely by the degreed spouse’s time constraints due to pursuit of the advanced degree and training.

The Court also stated that the equitable award should be reduced by the non-degreed spouse’s 50% share of the degreed spouse’s incremental earnings after attaining the degree and training.

All amounts are converted to the value of current dollars since the award will be paid in current dollars.

Information Required to Calculate a Postema Equitable Award

The components of an equitable Postema award are, in the main, fact intensive. Thus, input from both parties is essential. Information required includes a timeline including:

  • Date of marriage;
  • Time periods of (1) advanced degree education and, if applicable, (2) professional training;
  • If applicable, time period working as a professional after attainment of the degree and training; and,
  • Dates of birth of children during marriage.

The following is a “Postema Information Request List” used by the author when performing a Postema award calculation.

Information Required to Determine an Estimated Equitable Award According to the Postema Case

  • Date of marriage; length of “courtship”
  • Birthdates of children of the marriage.
  • Detailed chronology (year by year) of attainment of advanced degree and professional training (e.g., for a doctor – medical school; internship; residency; board certification training; etc.)
  • Current résumé of the professional
  • Educational background and employment history of the degreed spouse prior to pursuit of the advanced degree. Provide his or her annual earnings from such employment.
  • Annual earnings of each party during years of the marriage – both before attainment of the advanced degree and professional training, and afterward.
  • Other sources of funds such as student loans, loans or cash gifts from family, inheritances, etc. Please indicate (1) the year in which such funds became available and (2) the party to which the funds are attributable.
  • The costs of the advanced degree and professional training, including tuition, books, fees, travel, additional housing, etc. Please specify the source of funds used to pay these costs. If financed by loans, please indicate the extent to which such loans have been repaid with marital funds.
  • An estimate of hours per week the non-degreed spouse devoted to household and other family responsibilities, including parenting, in excess of the hours such spouse would have devoted to such responsibilities if the other spouse were not pursuing the advanced degree and professional training.
  • Comments on the extent to which the normal companionship generally existing between spouses was unavailable due to pursuit of advanced degree and professional training.
  • Extent to which, if any, the non-degreed spouse subordinated his or her career aspirations to allow the other to pursue his or hers. Please specify the future plans regarding such postponed career aspirations, including the timetable for same.
  • Copies of federal income tax returns of the degreed spouse’s practice for each year since commencement of the practice.
  • If the degreed spouse did not start a practice immediately on being licensed to so, please provide his or her employment history, including annual income, since he or she became licensed to practice.

About the Author

Joe Cunningham has over 25 years of experience specializing in financial and tax aspects of divorce, including business valuation, valuing and dividing retirement benefits, and developing settlement proposals. He has lectured extensively for ICLE, the Family Law Section, and the MACPA. Joe is also the author of numerous journal articles and chapters in family law treatises. His office is in Troy, though his practice is statewide.

Download the PDF file below… “Calculation of an Equitable Award for the Non-Degreed Spouse Under the POSTEMA Decision”
View / Download Aug / Sept 2018 Article – PDF File

Complete Michigan Family Law Journal available at: Michigan Bar website – Family Law Section (subscription required)

February 2018 : Highlights of 2017 Tax Reform Act’s Effects on Divorce

View / Download February 2018 Article – PDF File

— The 2017 Tax Reform Act was signed into law in December 2017. Some of its significant effects on divorcing couples are summarized below.

Alimony Deduction:


New Law

Alimony, that is, spousal support, will not be deductible by the payer or taxable to the payee for divorce and separation
judgments and decrees entered on or after December 31, 2018.

This also applies to modified judgments of divorce or separation effective after 2018.

And, it applies to divorce and separation decrees entered before December 31, 2018 if the parties elect to have the new law apply.

But, it does not apply to other divorce and separation decrees entered before December 31, 2018. Thus, for all existing divorce settlements and those entered by year-end, alimony will continue to be taxable/deductible.

Comments on the New Law

1. Window for Creative Use of Section 71 Payments— Because most alimony payers are typically in a considerably higher tax bracket than most payees, the tax saved by the payer usually exceeds the tax paid by the payee. This has set the stage for creative uses of “Section 71 payments” under which the disparity in tax brackets can be used to provide a tax subsidy.

Examples include using Section 71 payments to:

  • Divide non-qualified deferred compensation on a taxable/deductible basis.
  • Structure installment payments of a business buy-out of the non-owner spouse’s marital interest on a taxable/deductible basis.
  • Pay attorney fees on a taxable/deductible basis. However, after 2018, these opportunities and similar others will no longer be available. So, in situations where there is significant disparity in brackets, consider whether using Section 71 payments would be beneficial.

2. Fundamental Change in the Dynamic of Alimony/Spousal Support— When the alimony deduction was enacted in 1948, the theory was that, if a former family’s income is split between the parties in some manner post-divorce, the tax treatment should correspond.

As noted, the result in many cases has been less combined tax paid on the payer’s income. Because of budgetary concerns – including the enormous cost of 2017 TRA – eliminating the alimony deduction became a revenue raising option to help alleviate the deficit increasing effect of the TRA.

This creates a new paradigm for divorce practitioners and alimony guideline providers, that is, thinking in terms of aftertax dollars for spousal support, similar to child support.

3. Effect of Post 2018 Judgment Amendments— If a pre-2019 divorce or separation judgment or decree is amended on or after December 31, 2018, the new nontaxable/nondeductible law applies.

Query: Would this be the result even if the amendment does not pertain to spousal support? If the answer has not become clear by year-end, the distinct possibility of losing taxable/deductible status of spousal support payments must be considered before advising the post-2018 amendment of a pre-2019 judgment providing for taxable/deductible alimony.

Personal And Dependency Exemptions:


New Law

The federal personal and dependency exemption – $4,050 in 2017 for each taxpayer and each of his/her dependents – is repealed beginning in tax year 2018.

The $4,000 Michigan income tax personal and dependency exemption is based on the number of exemptions claimed on a taxpayer’s federal return. Thus, it too would be lost incident to the federal repeal. But, at the time this article is written, there is reason to believe that Governor Snyder will push legislation to preserve the Michigan exemption.

Comments on the New Law

1. Michigan Exemptions— Since the Michigan income tax personal and dependency exemptions are likely to be preserved, it still is advisable to specifically provide for who is entitled to the exemption for dependent children.

2. Need for a Michigan Form 8332?— As noted, the entitlement to Michigan exemptions has been tied directly to the number of exemptions claimed on a taxpayer’s federal return and there is no Michigan income tax provision allowing the custodial parent to release an exemption to the non-custodial parent.

Thus, it seems that, accompanying new Michigan law to preserve the exemption for state tax purposes, should be a provision allowing the release of the exemption from one parent to the other.

Perhaps by a Michigan counterpart to federal Form 8332, the execution of which has allowed for such releases for federal tax purposes.

Standard Deduction:


New Law

The standard deduction—used in lieu of itemizing deduction—was almost doubled under the 2017 TRA. For joint filers, it is $24,000 in 2018; single – $12,000; head of household – $18,000.

Comment on the New Law

Offset, More or Less, by Repeal of Exemptions— The benefit of the increased standard deduction is reduced, or eliminated, by the loss of personal and dependency exemptions.

Example:

For a family of 4 filing a joint return: Under TRA  Pre TRA
Standard Deduction $24,000 $13,000
Personal & Dependency Exemptions 0  16,200
Total Deduction $24,000  $29,200

The decrease in the total deduction is offset in part by the TRA’s lower tax rates (see below).

Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions:


New Law

Currently, certain expenses are deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions to the extent they exceed 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI). Such expenses include tax preparation fees, investment advisory fees, unreimbursed employee expenses.

They also include attorney and accounting fees incurred in divorce that are attributable to (1) efforts to obtain spousal support and (2) tax advice.

Under the TRA, effective January 1, 2018, deduction of all such fees and expenses is eliminated.

Comment on the New Law

The deduction of a portion of divorce related fees has made them less expensive for clients who itemized deductions.

However, except for higher asset cases, more clients will be using the higher standard versus itemizing deductions.

New Tax Rates:


New Law

Tax rates have been, in the main, modestly reduced and are as follows effective January 1, 2018:

Taxable Income
Tax
Rates
Single Married Filing
Jointly
Head of
Household
10% 0-9,525 0-19,050 0-13,600
12% 9,526-38,700 19,501-77,400 13,601-51,800
22% 38,701-82,500 77,401-165,000 51,801-82,500
24% 82,501-157,500 165,001-315,000 82,501-157,500
32% 157,501-200,000 315,001-400,000 157,501-200,000
35% 200,001-500,000 400,001-600,000 200,001-500,000
37% Over 500,000 Over 600,000  Over 500,000

Comments on New Law

1. Lower Rates— The 7 tax rates ranging from 10% to 37% are 2%-3% lower than previous rates. For instance, a married couple with $75,000 of taxable income will pay $8,619 versus $10,297.

2. Tempered by Loss of Certain Deductions— The lower rates are offset, to varying degrees for different taxpayers, by the elimination of personal and dependency exemptions and loss of some itemized deductions.


Michigan Family Law Journal : TAX TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS Feature

About the Author:

Joe Cunningham has over 25 years of experience specializing in financial and tax aspects of divorce, including business valuation, valuing and dividing retirement benefits, and developing settlement proposals. He has lectured extensively for ICLE, the Family Law Section, and the MACPA. Joe is also the author of numerous journal articles and chapters in family law treatises. His office is in Troy, though his practice is statewide.

Download the PDF file below… “Highlights of 2017 Tax Reform Act’s Effects on Divorce”
View / Download February 2018 Article – PDF File

Complete Michigan Family Law Journal available at: Michigan Bar website – Family Law Section (subscription required)

January 2018 : Court of Appeals (1) Rules on Marital Property Status of Gift of a Vet Practice and (2) Rejects a Bright-Line Rule Re Excluding Personal Goodwill from Practice Value – Brusach No. 334550 (10/17/2017)

Michigan Family Law Journal : TAX TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS Feature

by Joseph W. Cunningham, JD, CPA

Facts

  • W purchased a veterinarian practice from her father at a substantially discounted price. The discount was a gift from dad to daughter.
  • H assisted W in various capacities in maintaining the vet practice during the marriage.
  • The vet practice was valued by experts working on behalf of H and W, respectively.
  • The trial court selected a value within the two calculated by the two experts and found that the gift component of the value had lost its separate property character due to (1) H’s active involvement and (2) the commingling of practice income with the marital estate.
  • W objected to this finding and to the inclusion of her personal goodwill in the practice value.
  • In her appeal on the personal goodwill issue, she claimed personal goodwill should be excluded from the marital estate because:
    1. It is the equivalent of future earning ability, which is not marital; and,
    2. It results in double-dipping since future earnings are factored in to setting spousal support.

Court Of Appeals (COA/Court) Decision

  • In an unpublished opinion, the COA upheld the trial court decision.
  • Regarding the gift component of the practice value, the Court, on reviewing the record, stated that it could not conclude that “the trial court made a mistake in finding that the gift lost any characteristic of being separate property.”
  • It agreed that the gift portion of the practice had essentially been transformed to marital property during the marriage.
  • Regarding W’s personal goodwill claim, the COA cited the 2012 Loutts decision, 298 Mich App 21, in ruling that double-dipping issues are determined on a case by case basis and, accordingly, “there is no room for *** rigid and arbitrary formulas when determining *** spousal support.”
  • Further, the Court stated: “Accordingly, there is no brightline rule for whether the value of a business can be used in determining property distribution and awarding spousal support.”

Comments on the Case

  • Whether separate property is transformed into marital property is a “facts and circumstances” determination.
  • Commingling of income from the separate property with marital income, as occurred in this case, is one factor suggesting property has been converted to marital.
  • The Court has previously indicated that personal goodwill is includable in value for divorce purposes, stating: “We are unpersuaded of the need to adopt a distinction between personal and business goodwill for purposes of valuing business assets in the context of a divorce action.” Conger, Mich App No. 219373 (12/26/00).

About the Author

Joe Cunningham has over 25 years of experience specializing in financial and tax aspects of divorce, including business valuation, valuing and dividing retirement benefits, and developing settlement proposals. He has lectured extensively for ICLE, the Family Law Section, and the MACPA. Joe is also the author of numerous journal articles and chapters in family law treatises. His office is in Troy, though his practice is statewide.

Download the PDF file below… “Court of Appeals (1) Rules on Marital Property Status of Gift of a Vet Practice and (2) Rejects a Bright-Line Rule Re Excluding Personal Goodwill from Practice Value – Brusach No. 334550 (10/17/2017)”
View / Download January 2018 Article – PDF File

Complete Michigan Family Law Journal available at: Michigan Bar website – Family Law Section (subscription required)

December 2017 : House Ways and Means Committee Proposes “Tax Reform” Legislation that Provides (1) Alimony Would No Longer Taxable or Deductible and (2) Deductions for Personal Exemptions Would Be Eliminated. “Tax Cut and Jobs Act”, H.R. 1

Michigan Family Law Journal : TAX TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS Feature

by Joseph W. Cunningham, JD, CPA

In late October, 2017, the House Ways and Means Committee introduced the “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” (Act) which would, if enacted, provide sweeping changes to federal taxation of individuals and businesses. For the most part, if passed, the new provisions would take effect on January 1, 2018.

The Act has numerous, significant revisions to current tax law. The following are some of the most notable for family law practitioners.

Alimony Proposal

As noted, among the many changes in the Act is the provision that spousal support payments would be non-deductible / non-taxable, similar to the treatment of child support payments. This would apply to divorce judgments and separation agreements executed after 2018, and to any such documents amended after 2018 which expressly provide for tax treatment under the Act to apply.

Comments on the Alimony Proposal

Tax Subsidy Eliminated

Often the spousal support payer is in a meaningfully higher tax bracket than the payee spouse. This affords the opportunity to obtain a “tax subsidy” from Uncle Sam. For example, if W, the payer, is in a 40% federal tax bracket and H is in a 20% bracket, it costs Uncle Sam twenty cents on the dollar of spousal support paid:

[View Table in PDF file below]

Under the Act, such tax subsidies would no longer be available.

Advantageous Use of Section 71 Payments Also Eliminated

When there is a significant disparity in brackets, what have become known as Section 71 payments have often provided an effective, tax saving tool when structuring:

  1. A buy-out of one spouse’s marital interest in the other’s business or professional practice.
  2. A division of non-qualified retirement or executive benefits for which a QDRO cannot be used.
  3. A payment of the other spouse’s professional fees on a tax deductible basis.
  4. A “global” settlement taking advantage to the bracket disparity.

These and other uses of Section 71 payments would be unavailable under the Act.

Planning Consideration

As noted, the current taxable/deductible tax treatment of spousal support can be used to advantage. If such is the case and subject divorce is in a position to conclude before yearend, consider the merits of doing so.

Other Selected Highlights of Proposed Changes

Individual Tax Changes

  • Tax Brackets—The current 7 tax brackets ranging from 10% to 39.6% would be replaced by 4 brackets – 12%, 25%, 35%, and 39.6%. The top bracket would apply taxable income of singles exceeding $500,000, and marrieds’ taxable income over $1,000,000.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)—Eliminated
  • Deduction for Personal Exemptions—Eliminated.
  • Standard Deduction—Increased substantially – $12,000 for single; $18,000 for single with qualifying child; $24,000 for married.
  • Certain Itemized Deductions Eliminated—State & local income taxes; medical expenses; casualty losses; tax preparation fees; unreimbursed business expenses; all interest expense except for mortgage interest on principal residence.
  • Child Tax Credit—Increased from $1,000 to $1,600.

Business Tax Changes

  • Tax Brackets— Corporate tax rate would be a flat rate of 20%; 25% for personal service corporations.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)—Eliminated
  • “Pass-Through” Entities—Generally, the tax rate on S Corporation and LLC pass-through income would be 25% on 30% of the income; the balance of 70% – subject to individual tax rates.

Will the Act Become Law?

The Senate Finance Committee will next prepare its version of the tax reform bill. Then a Joint Conference Committee will iron out differences and the resulting bill will be presented to the House and Senate for approval.

Due to the failure to enact any significant GOP platform item to date, there will be considerable pressure to pass tax
reform legislation this year. The House bill provides a foundation for moving it forward.

About the Author

Joe Cunningham has over 25 years of experience specializing in financial and tax aspects of divorce, including business valuation, valuing and dividing retirement benefits, and developing settlement proposals. He has lectured extensively for ICLE, the Family Law Section, and the MACPA. Joe is also the author of numerous journal articles and chapters in family law treatises. His office is in Troy, though his practice is statewide.

Download the PDF file below… “House Ways and Means Committee Proposes “Tax Reform” Legislation that Provides (1) Alimony Would No Longer Taxable or Deductible and (2) Deductions for Personal Exemptions Would Be Eliminated. “Tax Cut and Jobs Act”, H.R. 1”
View / Download December 2017 Article – PDF File

Complete Michigan Family Law Journal available at: Michigan Bar website – Family Law Section (subscription required)