A recent Tax Court decision was reported that may be of interest to individuals potentially dealing with tax litigation. J. Frank Best, Certified Public Accountant and United States Tax Court Practitioner, as a litigator, works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for our clients.
Modified Child Support Order Didn’t Contradict Taxpayer’s Claim That He Was Custodial Parent
The United States Tax Court held that a taxpayer was entitled to take dependency exemptions, the earned income tax credit, and child tax credits for the year at issue. The court found that the IRS’s argument that the taxpayer wasn’t the custodial parent and wasn’t entitled to the exemptions and credits was entirely based on a child support order effective after the year at issue, and thus inapplicable. The court also determined that the taxpayer had reasonable cause for incorrectly claiming head of household filing status and thus was not liable for penalties assessed by the IRS. Tsehay v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2016-200.
Yosef Tsehay, whose first language is not English, worked as a custodian at a community college in Washington. He and his wife were married in 2001 and over the years their relationship was “on-again, off-again.” During 2013, the two were married and living together with their five children in a public housing apartment. Tsehay’s wife was responsible for paying the rent on the public housing unit, and he paid for food and other expenses of his family. In 2014, the couple separated, and during 2015 they were undergoing divorce proceedings.
Although Tsehay paid a tax return preparer to prepare his return, Tsehay electronically filed the 2013 Form 1040A himself. On the return, he claimed: (1) dependency exemption deductions for four children; (2) the earned income tax credit (EITC) for three children; (3) the child tax credit (CTC) for four children; and (4) head of household filing status. He did not attach a Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a statement conforming to the substance of a Form 8332, to his Form 1040A for tax year 2013.
Following an audit, the IRS disallowed Tsehay’s claimed dependency exemption deductions, earned income tax credit, and child tax credit for 2013. The IRS also changed his filing status from head of household to single and determined an accuracy-related penalty under Code Sec. 6662(a).
Under Code Sec. 151(c), an individual is allowed an exemption deduction for each “dependent,” which is generally defined as a qualifying relative or a qualifying child. In addition, taxpayers are entitled to claim the EITC under Code Sec. 32 and the CTC under Code Sec. 24 for qualifying children. Under Code Sec. 152(c), to be a qualifying child of the taxpayer, the child must have had the same principle place of above as the taxpayer for more than one-half of the tax year.
Under Code Sec. 2(b), a taxpayer can file as a head of household if the taxpayer is unmarried, has paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year, and a qualifying person has lived with the taxpayer for more than half the year.
The Tax Court noted that the IRS’s determinations stemmed from its records showing that Tsehay was not the custodial parent of his minor children and from his failure to attach a copy of Form 8332 or its equivalent to his return. The IRS provided a copy of a child support order to establish that Tsehay was in fact a “noncustodial parent.” However, the court stated, the child support order was entered August 3, 2015, and thus did not apply for the year at issue. The court determined Tsehay had sufficiently established that he and his wife were married during 2013, and thus a Form 8332 to claim dependency exemptions was not required.
The court noted the children claimed on Tsehay’s return as dependents had the same principal place of abode as he did for more than one-half of the year at issue and were his qualifying chidlren, and determined that he was entitled to the dependency exemption deductions claimed on his 2013 return. In addition, because he had “three or more” qualifying children for tax year 2013, the court determined he was entitled to the earned income credit and to child tax credits and the additional child tax credits claimed.
With regard to his filing status, Tsehay explained to the court that because he and his wife had separated by the time he was ready to file his 2013 tax return, he had asked his preparer to file for him as “married filing separately.” The court noted that the preparer erroneously filed his return as “head of household.” Because Tsehay was married for 2013, the court stated he could not qualify for head of household filing status, and noted he also was not eligible to file as single as claimed by the IRS. Instead, the court said, his correct filing status for 2013 was in fact married filing separately.
With regard to the accuracy related penalty, the court observed that Tsehay had a language barrier, sought and relied on professional advice, and was separated from his wife when he filed his return. Under those circumstances, the court stated, Tsehay had reasonable cause and acted in good faith in filing his returns, and declined to impose penalties.