Assigning the Tax Exemption for Children in Divorce

Alabama child support guidelines are calculated based on the assumption that the custodial parent will be keeping and using the tax exemption for the children. So typically, divorce courts have little difficulty with this issue, routinely assigning the exemption to the custodial parent.

The recent case of Henderson v Henderson, DR 2150495 (Ala. Civ. App. January 6, 2017) is a rare exception. The wife appealed the trial court’s divorce decree citing several errors she thought were in it. The appeals court affirmed the trial court on its award of the marital estate and alimony, its failing to award her an attorney’s fee, its allowing the husband to decide what to retrieve from the marital residence, and its denial of her post-judgment motion.

The appeals court reversed, however, on the award of the tax exemption to the husband.

In A.M.B. v. J.M.S., 12 So.3d 1221, 1222 (Ala. Civ. App. 2009), this court reversed a judgment entered by a juvenile court that, among other things, awarded sole physical custody of the child to the mother, directed the father to pay child support, and directed that the mother and the father alternate yearly regarding which parent claimed the child for income-tax purposes. We reiterated Alabama caselaw observing that the Comment to Rule 32, Ala. R. Jud. Admin., assumed that the custodial parent will take the income-tax exemptions for the children in his or her custody and that a trial court may deviate from those guidelines if that court enters a written statement explaining its deviation therefrom. Id. In accordance with Alabama law, this court reversed the juvenile court’s judgment and remanded the case to the juvenile court “for that court to either (1) ‘enter a statement explaining its deviation from the guidelines in awarding the father the tax-dependency exemption in alternating years’ (K.H.L.[ v. K.G.M.], 782 So.2d [804, ] 807 [(Ala. Civ. App. 2000)]) or (2) amend its judgment to fully conform to the guidelines by awarding the dependency exemption to the mother as the primary custodial parent (see Walls[ v. Walls], 860 So.2d [352, ] 359 [(Ala. Civ. App. 2003)]).” 12 So.3d at 1222. Because the trial court in the present case also failed to indicate its reasoning for allowing the husband, as the noncustodial parent, to claim the child as a dependent for income-tax purposes, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand the case for the trial court to enter a statement explaining its deviation from the guidelines or to amend its judgment to conform with Rule 32 as discussed in A.M.B.

So now it will be up to the trial court how to deal with the exemption. It will either follow Rule 32 and assign the tax exemption to Mom, or it will enter a statement in the record explaining the reasons for its deviation.

A final personal observation: this divorce was filed in June of 2013. These two (and their four children) have been dealing with it now for 42 tortuous months, and it’s still not over. Hope you’re saying a prayer for them. I know I am.

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