This article introduces a series of articles on 26 U.S.C. §1041 and specifically the issue of tax treatment of ex-spouse property transfers incident to divorce. As a result of a divorce, it is very common for ex-spouses to transfer properties to each other as part of their settlement agreement. A question arises: are these ex-spouse property transfers taxable?
Note that this article covers a situation only when both spouses are US citizens and only direct transfers between ex-spouses (i.e. the transfers on behalf of an ex-spouse are not covered here).
General Rule for Ex-Spouse Property Transfers under 26 U.S.C. §1041
A property transfer between spouses is generally not subject to federal income tax. 26 U.S.C. §1041(a)(1). Transfers of property between former spouses are also not taxable as long as they are “incident to divorce”. 26 U.S.C. §1041(a)(2). For income tax purposes, the law treats the transferee spouse as having acquired the transferred property by gift. 26 U.S.C. §1041(b)(1). This means that “the basis of the transferee in the property shall be the adjusted basis of the transferor”. 26 U.S.C. §1041(b)(2).
It is important to emphasize that only transfers of property (real, personal, tangible and/or intangible) are governed by 26 U.S.C. §1041; transfers of services are not subject to the rules of this section. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(a), Q&A-4.
Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Incident to Divorce
The key issue for the ex-spouse property transfers is whether they are “incident to divorce”. The statute and the temporary Treasury regulations describe two situations when a transfer between ex-spouses will be considered “incident to divorce”: “(1) The transfer occurs not more than one year after the date on which the marriage ceases, or (2) the transfer is related to the cessation of the marriage.” Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-6; 26 U.S.C. §1041(c).
Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Not More Than One Year After the Cessation of a Marriage
Any transfers of property between former spouses that occur not more than one year after the date on which the marriage ceases are subject to the nonrecognition rules of 26 U.S.C. §1041(a). This is case even if a transfer of property is not really related to the cessation of the marriage. Treas Reg § 1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-6.
Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Related to the Cessation of the Marriage
26 U.S.C. §1041 does not actually define the meaning of “transfers related to the cessation of the marriage”. Rather, the temporary Treasury regulations explain this term.
The temporary regulations establish a two-prong test that states that a transfer of property is treated as related to the cessation of the marriage if: (1) “the transfer is pursuant to a divorce or separation instrument, as defined in section 71(b)(2)”, and (2) “the transfer occurs not more than 6 years after the date on which the marriage ceases”. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-7. The definition of divorce or separation instrument in the first prong also includes a modification or amendment to such decree or instrument.
If either or both of the prongs of this test are not satisfied (for example, the transfer occurred more than six years after the cessation of the marriage), then a transfer “is presumed to be not related to the cessation of the marriage.” Id. This is a rebuttable presumption and, in a future article, I will discuss how a taxpayer may rebut this presumption.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help Concerning Tax Consequences of a Property Transfer to an Ex-Spouse
If you are engaged in a divorce or you are an attorney representing a person who is engaged in a divorce, contact Sherayzen Law Office for experienced help with respect to taxation of transfers of property to an ex-spouse as well as other tax consequences of a divorce proceeding.