Alimony, also called spousal support, means a payment by one spouse to another following a divorce. Courts don't always grant alimony, and the trend is away from alimony orders, but where the marriage was long and one spouse earns a lot more than another, or one spouse left the workforce in order to raise children or manage the household, alimony is fairly common. (For basic information about alimony, read Nolo's article Alimony: What You Need to Know Before Divorce.)
Alimony is tax-deductible for the person paying, and constitutes taxable income for the person receiving it, so it's important to keep adequate records if you are paying or receiving alimony. This point cannot be over-emphasized. Frequently after a divorce, the spouses dispute, or the IRS challenges, the amounts that were actually paid or received. Without adequate documentation, the payer may lose the alimony tax deduction or be ordered to pay back support if the other spouse makes a claim in court.
Here are the records each party to the divorce should keep:
The person paying alimony should keep:
- a list showing each payment (date, check number, and address to which the check was sent)
- the originals of checks used for payments (keep in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box) -- be sure to note on each check the month for which the support is being paid, and
- if you pay in cash, receipts for each payment, signed by the recipient.
Be sure to keep these records for at least three years from the date you file the tax return deducting the payments. Some lawyers and tax advisers say you should never throw away records like these.
The spouse receiving support should make a list that shows each payment received. Include the following information:
- date payment was received
- amount received
- check number or other identifying information (for example, the number of the money order)
- account number on which any check is written
- name of bank on which check is drawn or money order issued
- a photocopy of the check or money order, and
- a copy of any signed receipt you give for cash payments.
To learn about other issues arising with alimony, get Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce, by Emily Doskow (Nolo).