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IBA: Providing Benefits to Same-Gender Partners Can Be Taxing

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By Katrina Clingerman and Shalina Schaefer, Ice Miller LLP

More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex relationships under various names, such as domestic partnerships, civil unions, or same-gender marriages. (We use the term “same-gender partner” generically to refer to any relationship of this sort.) The recognition provided by these states ranges from recognition of certain partnerships to the granting of certain spousal rights to same-gender partners. Several states and localities now require same-gender partner benefits to be offered to all public employees, require insurers to provide some level of same-gender partner benefits, or require any employers contracting with a municipality to provide same-gender partner benefits to their employees. In contrast, many other states have clarified that marriage is limited to the union of a man and a woman and providing same-gender partner benefits in these states may therefore be difficult or even prohibited. With states varying so widely in their policies, employers must carefully research the applicable laws in each state in which employees are located. Whether a company is offering health coverage to same-gender partners to be competitive, to provide equal benefits to all its employees, or to comply with changes in state or local law, there are federal tax issues to keep in mind. The purpose of this article is to alert you to federal tax issues involved in providing same-gender partner health benefits.

The Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) provides tax-favored treatment of employer-provided health benefits for employees and their spouses, dependents, and children through the end of the year in which they turn 26. However, the Defense of Marriage Act precludes the treatment of a same-gender partner as a “spouse” for these purposes. Thus, the value of health coverage provided to the partner can only be excluded from the employee’s taxable income if the partner qualifies as a “dependent” of the employee under Code Section 152 (a “Code Section 152 dependent”).

Qualifying as a Code Section 152 dependent of an employee would require, among other things, that the partner be a member of the employee’s household, share a principal residence with the employee, receive over half of the individual’s support from the employee, and not be a “qualifying child” of any other person. Often, the financial support requirement disqualifies many same-gender partners from being a dependent. Note that this is not a determination easily made by the employer, which may necessitate establishing a certification process for affected employees.

When a same-gender partner is not a Code Section 152 dependent, the value of health coverage provided to the partner must be added to the employee’s reported income (this is called “imputed income”). This means that both the value of the partner’s coverage subsidized by the employer and the portion of the premium paid by the employee for the partner’s coverage are taxable.

The difficulty in taxing employees on the value of same-gender partner health coverage is in determining the fair market value of such coverage, which is the imputed income amount. The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has refused to issue any rulings that approve of a particular approach. Therefore, employers have adopted a variety of approaches. Most employers agree that beginning with the plan’s own COBRA rates (less the 2% administrative fee) is a logical starting point, and the IRS has officially neither disputed nor blessed this approach.

Employers are in less agreement as to the appropriate means of allocating the value of the coverage where coverage is provided to a family group consisting of both taxable and non-taxable individuals. For example, under an employer’s health plan, one employee may elect family coverage to cover herself, her child, and her same-gender partner. A second employee may elect family coverage to cover himself, his two children, and his same-gender partner. Both employees pay the same premium for family coverage and neither of them can claim their same-gender partner as a Code Section 152 dependent. What portion of each employee’s family premium is attributable to the same-gender partner’s coverage, and, therefore, taxable to the employee? Because no single approach has been approved, the approach is often determined based upon the circumstances and premium structure of the individual employer.

As the trend of providing same-gender partner benefits continues, companies will need to ensure that they understand their federal tax reporting and withholding responsibilities with respect to taxable same-gender partner benefits. In addition, it will be important to understand the state and local laws impacting the provision of such benefits in each locality where the employer operates.•
 

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  1. Ah yes... Echoes of 1963 as a ghostly George Wallace makes his stand at the Schoolhouse door. We now know about the stand of personal belief over service to all constituents at the Carter County Clerk door. The results are the same, bigotry unable to follow the directions of the courts and the courts win. Interesting to watch the personal belief take a back seat rather than resign from a perception of local power to make the statement.

  2. An oath of office, does it override the conscience? That is the defense of overall soldier who violates higher laws, isnt it? "I was just following orders" and "I swore an oath of loyalty to der Fuhrer" etc. So this is an interesting case of swearing a false oath and then knowing that it was wrong and doing the right thing. Maybe they should chop her head off too like the "king's good servant-- but God's first" like St Thomas More. ...... We wont hold our breath waiting for the aclu or other "civil liberterians" to come to her defense since they are all arrayed on the gay side, to a man or should I say to a man and womyn?

  3. Perhaps we should also convene a panel of independent anthropological experts to study the issues surrounding this little-known branch of human sacrifice?

  4. I'm going to court the beginning of Oct. 2015 to establish visitation and request my daughters visits while she is in jail. I raised my grandchild for the first two and half years. She was born out of wedlock and the father and his adopted mother wantwd her aborted, they went as far as sueing my daughter for abortion money back 5mo. After my grandchild was born. Now because of depression and drug abuse my daughter lost custody 2 and a half years ago. Everyting went wrong in court when i went for custody my lawyer was thrown out and a replacment could only stay 45 min. The judge would not allow a postponement. So the father won. Now he is aleinating me and my daughter. No matter the amount of time spent getting help for my daughter and her doing better he runs her in the ground to the point of suicide because he wants her to be in a relationship with him. It is a sick game of using my grandchild as a pawn to make my daughter suffer for not wanting to be with him. I became the intervener in the case when my daughter first got into trouble. Because of this they gave me her visitation. Im hoping to get it again there is questions of abuse on his part and I want to make sure my grandchild is doing alright. I really dont understand how the parents have rights to walk in and do whatever they want when the refuse to stand up and raise the child at first . Why should it take two and a half years to decide you want to raise your child.The father used me so he could finish college get a job and stop paying support by getting custody. Support he was paying my daughter that I never saw.

  5. Pence said when he ordered the investigation that Indiana residents should be troubled by the allegations after the video went viral. Planned Parenthood has asked the government s top health scientists at the National Institutes of Health to convene a panel of independent experts to study the issues surrounding the little-known branch of medicine.

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