Tuesday, March 23, 2021

When Is Divorce A Tax-Deductible Theft?

 

I am reading a case involving tax consequences from a divorce.

More specifically, the (ex) wife trying to deduct $2.5 million as a theft loss.

That is a little different.

He and she got married in 1987. Husband (Bruno) lifted a successful career in the financial sector, and by 2005 was earning over $2 million annually.

There was an affair.

There was a divorce.

The Court ordered an equitable distribution of marital properties.

That did not seem to impress Bruno, who transferred no marital properties. The court held him in contempt, ordered him to pay interest and yada yada yada.

QUESTION: Can’t a court place someone in jail for contempt?

It appeared that the Court had enough of Bruno, and in 2010 the Court transferred real estate to the (ex) wife, with instructions to sell, keep the first $300 grand and transfer the balance to an escrow account. The property sold for $1.9 million. Th (ex) wife kept all the money, placing nothing in escrow.

Yep, the Court held her in contempt.

By now I am thinking that the contempt of this court is clearly meaningless.

In 2015 our esteemed Bruno filed for bankruptcy. He claimed he was down to his last $2,500.

Which raised the question of where all the money went.

In 2016 the (ex) wife filed suit against Bruno’s new wife and several companies that he, she or both owned.

Methinks we found where the monies went.

She filed a claim against the bankruptcy estate for $3.5 million.

Apparently, there was something to the (ex) wife’s claim, as the bankruptcy trustee filed suit against the new wife, against Bruno’s mother, the Bruno companies previously mentioned and some poor guy Bruno talked to while walking his dog around the neighborhood.

That case was settled in 2019.

Let’s be honest: there is really no likeable character in this story.

The (ex) wife amended her 2015 tax return to report a $2.5 million theft.

That – not surprisingly – created a net operating loss that went springing across tax years like kids at a pre-COVID McDonald’s Playland.

The IRS caught the amended return and said: No way. No theft. No loss. Get outta here.

And that is how we got to the Tax Court.

Establishing the existence of a deductible theft can be tricky in tax law. Yes, one always has the question of what was stolen, how much was it worth and all that. Tax law introduces an additional requirement:

·      One must establish the year in which the loss was sustained.

The blade is in Reg 1.165-1(d):

However, if in the year of discovery there exists a claim for reimbursement to which there is a reasonable prospect of recovery, no portion of the loss with respect to which reimbursement may be received is sustained  .. until the taxable year in which it can be ascertained with reasonable certainty whether or not such reimbursement will be received.”

It is not the “what” that will trip you up; it is the “when.”

There of course some Court guidance over the years, such as:

·      The evaluation should not be made “through the eyes of the ‘incorrigible’ optimist,” or

·      … the “mere possibility or the bare hope of a future development permitting recovery does not bar the deduction of a loss clearly sustained.”

Yep. That is like telling a baseball player to step to the plate against Jacob deGrom and “just swing the bat.”

Thanks for the advice there, pal.

And the Court decided against the (ex) wife.

No one believed Bruno when he filed bankruptcy in 2015 and claimed he was worth only $2,500. The trustee filed suit; the (ex) wife filed suit. Lawsuits were everywhere.

The Court stated that the (ex) wife may well have a theft loss. What she did not have was a theft loss in 2015.

Our case this time for the home gamers was Bruno v Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2020-156.

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