Getting married? Here's what it means for your tax return

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Getting married involves organising a thousand things and the chances are that in among all the obvious things, you've given no thought to the impact getting married will have on your taxes.

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, here are the key things you need to know about marriage and tax.

The basics

getting married here's what it means for your tax return

  • You don't have to lodge a combined tax return if you're married (as happens in some other countries). Joint income is recorded separately in each spouse's tax return.
  • You need to show on your tax return that you now have a spouse, and disclose his or her taxable income each year.
  • Your combined income is taken into account if you don't have private health insurance (you may have to pay the Medicare levy surcharge -effectively an additional tax of up to 1.5% - if you are a high earning couple and one or both of you does not have a qualifying private health policy) as well as when calculating some benefits such as family tax benefits.
  • If you elect to change your name, the details will need to be updated before your tax return is lodged. The easiest way to do that is online or you can do it by phone. You'll need to verify your identity with the ATO when you do it, so you'll need documents such as your birth certificate or marriage certificate. You cannot notify the tax office simply by noting it on the front cover of your next return as used to be the case.

Tax-deductible wedding gifts

If your guests choose to make gifts to a charity of your choice as a wedding gift, they can claim a tax deduction for the gift provided it's to a charity registered as a Deductible Gift Recipient.

Look out for capital gains tax

It is not unusual for each half of a couple to own their own home before they are married.  Normally, you can sell your main residence without CGT. However, spouses are only entitled to one main residence exemption for capital gains tax (CGT) purposes between them. If both members of a couple each own a main residence they must either:

  • select one residence for the exemption
  • apportion the CGT exemption between the two residences.

Provided the homes meet the requirements for the main residence exemption, they will both be wholly exempt from CGT for the period prior to the couple being treated as spouses. However, from the time the couple gets married, they can only have one exemption, although this may be divided between the two dwellings.

As an example, Susan bought a house in 2004. She lived in it until she married Roger in 2020 at which point they moved into his house, which he had owned since 2010. Roger's house became their main residence for CGT purposes. If she chooses to sell her house, Mary will be subject to CGT on her house for any growth in value from 2020 but she will not have to pay CGT on any capital growth in the period before she married Roger.

Same-sex couples

The definition of spouse includes both de facto relationships and registered relationships. Your spouse is another person (whether of the same sex or opposite sex) who:

  • is in a relationship with you and is registered under a prescribed state or territory law
  • although not legally married to you, lives with you on a genuine domestic basis in a relationship as a couple.

That means that people living in same-sex relationships are now treated in the same way as heterosexual couples for tax purposes. They now fall under the same rules in areas such as these:

  • Medicare levy reduction or exemption
  • Medicare levy surcharge
  • Main residence exemption for capital gains tax.

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Mark Chapman is director of tax communications at H&R Block, Australia's largest firm of tax accountants, and is a regular contributor to Money. Mark is the author of Life and Taxes: A Look at Life Through Tax.