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I am long-divorced (and not remarried) from my French husband

who worked legally in the...
I am long-divorced (and not remarried) from my French husband who worked legally in the US for 20 years but for the last 5 didn't pay his income taxes. Around 15 years ago he owed $25,000 in taxes, declared bankruptcy because of credit card bills and intermittent unemployment, but of course the IRS debt has always remained. Apparently, when he tries to claim his SS retirement benefits when 66 yrs old, those benefits will be garnished because of his long-ago unpaid taxes. My main question: as his un-remarried ex-spouse, I am entitled to 50% of his Social Security retirement benefits. Will my 50% portion of his SS benefits likewise be garnished by the IRS because of his non-payment of income taxes (long ago)? If so, by how much? Also, if my 50% portion will be garnished, is there any way to remedy this situation? For instance, should I pay his long-owed $25,000 in income taxes so I may receive his SS retirement benefits ungarnished in my old age? Thanks so much for your help. Since my own SS benefits will be very low, this situation is of much concern to me.
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10/3/2012
Megan C
Megan C, Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Category: Tax
Satisfied Customers: 16,581
Experience: Licensed CPA, CFE, CMA, CGMA who teaches accounting courses at Master's Level
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Thanks for asking your question! I'm sorry to hear about your tax issue and I'm going to try my best to help you understand or resolve it.

Thank you for your question. Even though the social security is from your ex's earnings, it's being paid to you. If you have no obligation to the IRS for this debt, your check will not be garnished - only his will be garnished.

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Customer reply replied 5 years ago

Thank you. To confirm (with some anxiety): no matter what my ex-husband owes the IRS over these many years, when it's time for me to receive my 50% of his SS retirement benefits, since I personally owe nothing in unpaid income tax to the gov't, I will receive my full, ungarnished share due from his SS retirement benefits? If so (good news for me!), this is likely to cause much bitterness towards me from my ex (and we still have a child together who suffers between us) -- is there any positive approach to my ex-spouse's long-unpaid taxes (long ago bankruptcy, intermittent unemployment, etc)? For instance, simply put: will the IRS garnish his FULL SS retirement benefits when he applies for them next year, or only a portion per month -- e.g. 15% or 20%? The goal, obviously, in this dual situation is for me (who's not guilty of non-payment) to not be penalized and for him to receive SOME kind of retirement after all those years, but naturally to incrementally and reasonably give the IRS what's due from him. Phew. Thanks! Hopefully, Amy

So long as the tax debt was not from when you were married and filing a joint return, you have no liability for his debt. It's not your fault that he did not pay his taxes.

If his benefit is less than $750 a month, the IRS can't garnish any of his social security. If the amount is greater than $750 the most that can be taken is 15% of the benefit, and even then the total benefit can not fall below $750.

Again, you won't be penalized for his tax debt. You're divorced. Also, this should not cause any bitterness with your ex because he's the one who didn't pay his taxes. It's not your fault that his benefit will be garnished, so if I were you I wouldn't feel the least bit guilty.

** Please take a moment to rate my response as "Excellent" so that I may be compensated for assisting you today. Please let me know if my assistance was anything less than "OK Service", as I am compensated based on whether or not I have assisted you with your issue. If you need further clarifications, PLEASE WAIT TO XXXXX ANSWER UNTIL AFTER RECEIVING FOLLOW UP FROM ME. If I receive anything less than OK Service, I do not get paid, but the Web site will still collect your payment. Thank you for your kind understanding in this matter. If you have difficulties rating, then simply respond stating that you are having difficulties rating and thank me for my excellent, good, or ok service and we can get the rating applied by the site**
Megan C
Megan C, Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Category: Tax
Satisfied Customers: 16,581
Experience: Licensed CPA, CFE, CMA, CGMA who teaches accounting courses at Master's Level
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Customer reply replied 5 years ago

Thank you so very much for the specificity above. My ex-husband blames his non-payment of income tax on child support payments (exacted, unfortunately, by me). Hence, that I eventually "benefit" from his situation, while he "loses"-- a loss set in motion (non-payment of IRS), he considers, by my many years of "unreasonable" demands for child support post-divorce--is arousing bitterness on his part, which he passes on to my poor son, caught in between. He has long been under the impression he will get no SS benefits because of his behavior. Your counsel will allow me to email him the good news that while he will be penalized, "All" is very far from lost. This frees me much from old entanglements that persist in affecting my child. For instance, I can now say, "But Papa has some retirement, not matter what." I'm very grateful. Thank you. Amy.

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Megan C
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