Tax Tips & Pits – Bedrooms and taxes: Marital status made difficult

You may think that no one is interested in your relationship, but the taxman is.

It’s Valentine’s Day and you may be thinking no one is interested in your relationship … or lack of. Not so, the taxman is. Close your curtains!

As government benefits and tax credits expand and new ones are added, the more Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is insisting you report your marital status using CRA definitions.

If you claim it incorrectly, you may be losing out on some benefit or credit. Or, you may be gaining right now but will be asked to pay the government back if one day your status is corrected.

CRA’s rules surrounding marital status are unmistakably defined, and at the risk of creating confusion, here is an abridged version.

The options for reporting your status include married, common law, divorced, separated, widowed, and single.

Married: Defined as the legal union of a couple, referred to as spouses.

Divorced: Defined as the legal break-up of a married couple. You report this status until you enter another relationship – once divorced you are not single by CRA definition.

Widowed: Having been married but having lost your spouse. You report this status until you enter another relationship – again, you are not single.

Common-law: Defined as living together in a conjugal relationship for 12 continuous months, referred to as partners. However, having or adopting a child or becoming a custodial parent to your partner’s child, the 12 month rule no longer applies.

Separated: Whether married or common-law, a period of 90 days must pass before this status can be reported. This means a married or common-law relationship that breaks down after October 1 in a given year, on December 31 of that year that relationship is still considered married or common-law for tax purposes because the 90 day separation rule will not be met until into the New Year.

In the case of establishing the status of a new common-law relationship, if temporary separation(s) of fewer than 90 days occur(s) within the 12 month continuous period, the 12 month timeframe is not lengthened by the days of separation, nor is the 12 month period restarted. So technically, a couple could live an “on-again-off-again relationship” over the course of 12 months whereby they may actually have lived apart more than together but still find themselves classified as common-law for tax purposes.

Single: As the adage goes, you’re only single once. Once married and if that relationship is no more, the claim is either separated, divorced or widowed. Similarly for common-law, if it’s no more, the claim is either separated or widowed. This is your status until you enter another relationship. In other words, you aren’t to revert back to single as your status with CRA.

And what should one do if one’s marital status changes? CRA tells us that we must report the change by the end of the month following the change (use form RC65) … I would suggest you certainly change it on your next tax return.

Ron Clarke has his MBA and is a business owner in Trail, providing accounting and tax services. Email him at ron.clarke@JBSbiz.ca. To read previous Tax Tips & Pits columns visit www.JBSbiz.net.

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