A Taxing Divorce

While it may sound clichéd, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from family solicitors that enquiries from people contemplating divorce increase in the New Year. 

However latest hard facts on divorce, courtesy of the office for National Statistics, actually show a slight decline in the number of divorces. There were 2.9% fewer divorces in the latest figures from 2013 compared to 2012. There is also a suggestion that couples marrying after 2000 are faring better - perhaps because they are marrying later and often after a period of co-habitation. 

But this still meant a total of 126,716 couples divorced in 2013, 48% of whom had children. 

In any separation in addition to family, practical and emotional concerns there are also tax and legal aspects to consider. These are essentially the same whether ending a marriage or civil partnership. Unmarried couples who separate will have different issues which are not covered in this article. 

  1. Capital Gains Tax issues: The main tax to consider in a divorce is Capital Gains Tax. This will be relevant if the couple have assets such as their home, other property or business assets they want to transfer between them or need to sell to realise cash

    Married couples are allowed to transfer assets between them without gains or losses and this relief is still available up until the end of the tax year in which they have separated. After that, any assets transferred are deemed to occur at market value until the divorce completes

    If a separation commences early in 2016, there is very little time before the end of the tax year on 5 April 2016 so Capital Gains Tax should be considered at the earliest opportunity

    You may need advice on potential tax costs and to identify if various reliefs such as Private Residence Relief for your home or Entrepreneurs Relief or Gift Relief for business assets are relevant.

  2. Tax credits: You must report a change in circumstances - such as one party moving out - to HMRC within 30 days and start separate claims. This includes separations under a court order or separations which are likely to become permanent.
  3. Marriage Allowance - for couples eligible for the Marriage Allowance - which allows a transfer of some of the personal allowance of the higher earner to the lower earner - it is possible to elect to stop the transfer either at the start or end of the tax year of divorce. The timing will depend on whether the lower earner is likely to have to go out and work and use all their personal allowance.
  4. Update your will: After divorce or dissolution it is a good idea to review your will.  Gifts to former spouses and executorship appointments will be invalid after divorce so you might want to include new gifts and appoint new executors. It’s worth checking the Inheritance Tax (IHT) position too as a single person will have only one nil rate band and will pay IHT if their assets exceed £325,000.  

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