If you went through a divorce or other legal proceedings recently, you're probably quite eager to leave them in the past and start anew. Unfortunately, you may have to deal with them again — or at least their financial aftermath — now that tax season is here.

Tax reform's impact

Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) laws you can no longer deduct payments made for alimony (for divorces post-2018) or certain legal bills. Given that these payments can often be significant,it is important to know how this change may impact your freelance taxes going forward.

Here’s a quick synopsis:

Starting in 2019, you can no longer claim tax deductions for alimony payments. Before the TCJA’s reform of the tax code, payments meeting tax law requirements could be deducted by the payer on their federal income tax return while the recipient of such payments reported them as taxable income.

But as of now, alimony payments are no longer tax deductible and recipients of them no longer have to include them in their taxable income. This applies both to divorces executed after December 31, 2018 or modified after this date if the modified agreement specifically states that the new tax rules shall be applied to these alimony payments.

In addition, child support payments or payments to divide the marital property are also treated as nondeductible personal expenses for the payer and tax-free payments for the recipient.

Possible exceptions

Keep in mind the requirements for deductible alimony. If you have an alimony agreement that pre-dates 2019 it may still qualify as deductible alimony if it meets the following requirements:

  1. The payment must be made based on a written divorce or separation agreement.
  2. Payment must be to, or on behalf of. your spouse or ex-spouse, and not a third-party.
  3. Ex-spouses cannot live together or file taxes jointly.
  4. Payments must be made in cash or a cash equivalent.
  5. The payment cannot be child support.
  6. For the payer to claim a tax deduction they must note the payee’s Social Security number on their return.
  7. No obligations for payments to continue after recipient’s death can be included in the alimony agreement.

Other affected legal scenarios

Legal woes affecting you? Here’s what it means for your taxes. Tax reform ushers in higher taxes on lawsuit settlements with no deduction for attorney fees in some cases. For example, if you win a lawsuit in a $100,000 case, you will pay tax on the full $100,000, regardless of how much you pay in legal fees. However, there are two important exceptions:

This new law does not generally apply to qualified personal physical injury cases. In these scenarios the entire recovery from the case is usually tax free.

It should also not impact recoveries from cases where plaintiffs bring claims against their employers, but you should check with your tax professional in regard to your specific circumstances to be sure.

In most other personal lawsuits, there is no longer a write-off for legal fees or costs, so you would be taxed on all of your recovery. At first this may not seem like a big deal, but when you considerv that it includes lawsuits related to issues such as privacy, defamation of character, divorce, child custody, wrongful imprisonment, malpractice, punitive damages, and other common legal troubles the impact is likely to be much more widespread among taxpayers.

The impact of tax reform on legal fees cannot be overstated. The TCJA makes significant changes to the deductibility of alimony and personal lawsuit recoveries, which can really add up to a significant tax liability on your freelance tax return. Again, it is key to make sure you discuss your personal legal situation as it relates to taxes with a qualified professional.

Jonathan Medows is a New York City based CPA who specializes in taxes and business issues for freelancers and self-employed individuals across the country. He offers a free consultation to members of Freelancer’s Union and a monthly email newsletter covering tax, accounting and business issues to freelancers on his website, www.cpaforfreelancers.com — which also features a new blog, how-to articles, and a comprehensive freelance tax guide.

Jonathan is happy to provide an initial consultation to freelancers. To qualify for a free consultation you must be a member of the Freelancers Union and mention this article upon contacting him. Please note that this offer is not available Mar. 1 through April 18 and covers a general conversation about tax responsibilities of a freelancer and potential deductions. These meetings do not include review of self-prepared documents, review of self-prepared tax returns, or the review of the work of other preparers. The free meeting does not include the preparation or review of quantitative calculations of any sort. He is happy to provide such services but would need to charge an hourly rate for his time.