Is child support taxable?

Child support is not taxable income to the recipient, nor is it deductible for the person paying the support. Each year, IRS laws are slightly amended, significantly altered, or completely removed. For these reasons, among others, it is important for a person to learn the applicable laws before assuming that any form of income is taxable or non-taxable.

Alimony vs. Child Support 

While many states have taken major steps to revamp outdated alimony laws, alimony, or spousal support, is still awarded in some divorces. Whether it is permanent or temporary, alimony is considered income by the federal government and is taxable. Because the recipient uses these regular, court-ordered payments to cover living expenses, similar to income from a job, the payments are taxable. Child support payments are used to pay specific expenses related to the child and not the day-to-day expenses of the parent, so it is not considered income.

If an ex-spouse is ordered to pay alimony, there may be some relief. According to the Internal Revenue Service, alimony payments paid during any given tax year are deductible if they are made under an official divorce or separation and all qualifications are met. Alimony payments are not tax-deductible if the ex-spouses decided to make a verbal agreement rather than go through the proper channels to make it official.

Is Family Support Taxable?

Family support allows the parents to combine child support and spousal support (alimony) into a single mutually agreed payment. Family support is tax deductible by the payor (the person making the payments) and it is considered taxable income by the payee (the person receiving the payments). What this means is, family support may be a lesser benefit to the payee than separate alimony and child support payments, because child support is non-taxable.

However, courts often combine alimony and child support and call it family support specifically for the tax benefits to the family overall. Where one spouse earns far more than the other, and pays support, allowing the high wage earner spouse to deduct support payments and asking the support recipient to pay tax on the support amount means there will be more money left overall for care of the children. This is because adding the income to the custodial, lower income spouse may not increase the spouses taxes significantly due to the custodial spouse's low tax bracket, while asking the high earner to pay tax on the amount would cause a much higher increase due to the high earner's upper tax bracket.

Although it is clear that child support income is neither deductible by the payor nor taxable to the payee, many other issues can arise in family court, so it's best to be prepared. Awareness of the effect of child support and alimony on the payor and the payee's taxes can preserve more money for the care of the children overall. Consult a family law attorney for help understanding how your divorce, child support, and spousal support may effect your tax situation.