HENNINGER: MacArthur, GOP sticking it to divorcees
November 28, 2017
LAWYER: Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, Esq. — Plenty of New Jerseyans are angry that the Republican tax bill in the House of Representatives will significantly raise federal income taxes for those living in the Garden State by capping deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes. But there’s another population in our state who should be even angrier — the divorced.
Only one member of New Jersey’s congressional delegation voted for this legislative abomination: Rep. Tom MacArthur of the 3rd Congressional District, which covers large swaths of Burlington and Ocean counties. In voting for the Republican bill, he showed he is willing to throw his own constituents under the bus in the name of tax reform.
Divorced Americans are particularly vulnerable. Representing the full range of the economic spectrum, divorce is one of the most financially ruinous events in any person’s life. It happens to about 25,000 couples every year in New Jersey. One household becomes two, but the combined income generally stays the same. Not only that, but the legal costs associated with a divorce can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars, which erodes savings and creates debt for the families.
Does this sound like a group that ought to be hit with a tax increase of $8.3 billion? That’s the amount of money the Republican tax bill raises on the backs of divorced people to make up some of the revenue lost in cutting other taxes. To put this amount into context, $8.3 billion is 100 times less that than the round-off of the $1.5 trillion tax cut.
The way the tax bill hurts divorced people is by shifting the tax liability from the recipient to the payor so more taxes are paid. By definition, an alimony payor earns more income than the recipient, and thus pays a higher tax rate. While at first, this might sound good for recipients, it is not because in practice, experts agree, alimony awards will be reduced, meaning both parties will be victims of this legislative shakedown.
Groups concerned about both alimony payors and recipients are united on this issue. Women’s groups, like the National Organization of Women, are against it. My own group, Progress New Jersey, opposes the bill because it makes divorces more expensive and fails to reform an outdated alimony system. Family lawyers also oppose this element of the tax bill.
New Jersey family attorney Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, who is president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, recently said: “The financial security provided to families by spousal support is a valuable resource that needs to be further strengthened and not diminished by our representatives.” As a family law attorney, myself, I have seen the pain caused by our antiquated alimony laws and believe this is a terrible proposal.
Divorced New Jerseyans, men and women alike, should be outraged that one of our congressmen, MacArthur, voted in favor of this divorce penalty. In 2018, every Republican seat in New Jersey’s congressional delegation will be hard fought. If you or somebody close to you is divorced, join me in declaring — it’s splitsville for New Jersey and MacArthur.
Jef Henninger, of Toms River, is an attorney who practices family law and criminal defense. His main office is in Tinton Falls.