[FoRK] Why is married filing separately even a thing? (in the US)

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sun Feb 9 23:28:57 PST 2014

On 2/9/14 9:09 PM, J. Andrew Rogers wrote:
> On Feb 9, 2014, at 6:20 PM, Stephen Williams <sdw at lig.net> wrote:
>> While consulting a couple years ago, after exhausting COBRA (which I was very lucky to sign up for 3 days before the end of a 75% rebated/discounted rate during the recession), I took advantage of this through my SO's company.  I was hit with a substantial (thousands) tax bill as the health insurance in that case is considered imputed income to the non-employee.
> I’ve never heard of this consequence before but that may reflect selective enforcement.


It's possible the IRS is turning a blind eye, but in our case it didn't matter much for us: Her company realized that it should 
have been taxable and just essentially garnished her wages to collect for it.  Incorrect withholding liability is nothing to 
mess with as the penalties and interest compound (I found out the hard way with my old C-corp in 1992 or so).  You could still 
argue it, but you'd have to insist that the W2 was wrong, etc.  Messy.

> This health benefit, at the state level, is organized under the “domestic partnership” concept created largely to support gay couples. The Federal government does not recognize these as marriages so there would seem to be some kind of equal protection problem here if gay couples are not similarly targeted for imputed income based on the absence of Federally recognized marriage.
> And it gets even uglier in the case of marriages that are nominally recognized in some Federal contexts but not technically legally recognized in others. It is messy.
>> It was still probably better than any alternative that I had at the time since it was impossible for me to buy an individual policy before Obamacare. Now, it probably is better to buy such a policy rather than be on her policy.
> If you saved money, you are a rare outlier.

I have an employer plan currently but probably not forever.  At the end of the COBRA period, a few years ago now, I checked 
every possibility for getting an individual plan: I was rejected by every company.  I failed to find a way to even get a quote 
from the state high-risk plan system which I believe had a long waiting list anyway.  I'm very healthy, so that was fairly 
bizarre to me, and showed the system was clearly broken.

> I think it should be simple to buy appropriately priced health insurance; I don’t believe employment should be involved at all. However, Obamacare increased healthcare costs for my company 25-30% directly this year alone and another couple percent on payroll costs due to related tax changes that don’t actually help anyone. For zero improvement in benefits. I am unclear how this helps small business.

Even if there was no direct change in benefits, which maybe is rare as many old plans would now be considered substandard, 
there's still the bar against pre-existing condition denial, covering children to age 25, free preventative care and family 
planning, and similar changes.  But different states are managing their markets much differently.  Insurance and regulation are 
intertwined so much that there is a cloud of unintended consequences.  Many rates were much lower than expected in California.

> Everyone I know has been hit with this cost increase. For some it comes out of their paycheck if their company doesn’t eat it, and for others it comes as reduced hours or reduced benefits. Consequently, the above practice of being able to use domestic partnership policies to piggyback on companies willing to eat both the partner cost *and* the Obamacare cost increase is a seriously valuable perk. I have that perk but I also know what it costs.
>> Interestingly, there are some loopholes around marriage and divorce that might support getting married and divorced multiple times in certain circumstances.  One big one: divorce settlements and alimony are generally not taxable income.  The best way to transfer money to someone tax free is to marry and perhaps divorce them or their parents.  Might explain a few well-known examples.
> I had not thought of this before. On its face, it seems like a tricky gambit due to the possibility of jurisdictional and common law issues. It would require good faith on both parties.



More information about the FoRK mailing list