Department of Treasury

Taxpayers often enter into tax sharing agreements to agree on how the parties may allocate current or future tax liabilities or potential refund. Sometimes these agreements are heavily negotiated (e.g., a corporation acquiring a subsidiary of an unrelated party); sometime they are not (e.g., marital settlement agreements among individuals with little assets). A recent US Tax Court (Tax Court) opinion is a reminder that such agreements between private parties are not binding on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in a tax proceeding.

In Asad v. Commissioner, the IRS disallowed certain deductions for rental-property losses claimed by the taxpayers on their joint returns for two years. The taxpayers, who had since divorced, both sought relief from joint and several liability under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6015. In their divorce agreement, the taxpayers agreed that each would be liable for 50 percent of the tax liabilities for the two years. The IRS conceded that each taxpayer should be relieved of joint and several liability for a fraction of the liabilities (28 percent and 41 percent for the ex-wife and 72 percent and 59 percent for the ex-husband). At trial, the taxpayers argued that they should each be liable for 50 percent of the tax liabilities in accordance with the divorce agreement.

The Tax Court disagreed.  It reasoned that although the divorce agreement established the taxpayers’ rights against each other under state law, it did not control their liabilities to the IRS.  The court noted that case law, legislative committee reports, and reports issued by the Department of Treasury and the General Accounting Office have all observed that though divorce decrees may provide for an allocation of liabilities, such an allocation is not binding on creditors who do not participate in the divorce proceeding, and binding the IRS to such a divorce decree was impractical. Accordingly, in this case, though the taxpayers would have agreed to a 50/50 split on the tax liability, their divorce agreement did not alter their liabilities to the IRS.

Practice point:  When negotiating agreement containing a sharing of tax liabilities, taxpayers should remember that such agreement is not binding on the IRS, which is not a party to that agreement.  In the event one party is ultimately found liable for more than the amount or percentage dictated in an agreement, that party must seek contribution from the other party and cannot force the IRS to collect from the other party.

The Acting Chief Counsel announced that effective April 1, 2017, Drita Tonuzi will serve as the Deputy Chief Counsel (Operations), in Washington DC.  In this position, Ms. Tonuzi will provide legal guidance and litigation support to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Departments of Treasury and Justice in all matters pertaining to the administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue laws.  This includes responsibility for all litigation in the United States Tax Court as well as the management of personnel in fifty field offices nationwide and in headquarters operations in Washington, DC. She will directly supervises nine Divisions including Large Business and International (LB&I), Small Business/Self Employed (SB/SE), Tax Exempt and Governmental Entities (TEGEDC), Wage and Investment (W&I), General Legal Services (GLS), Criminal Tax (CT), Procedure and Administration (P&A), Finance and Management (F&M) and Counsel to the National Taxpayer Advocate (CNTA).

Ms. Tonuzi began her career with the Office of Chief Counsel in 1987 in the Manhattan Office, where she litigated cases before the United States Tax Court. She served as the Securities & Financial Services Firms Industry Counsel and managed a group of attorneys, Deputy Division Counsel for the Large Business & International Division (formerly LMSB), where she was responsible for the operation and litigation of the organization and most recently she served as Associate Chief Counsel Practice and Administration.

With Ms. Tonuzi’s promotion, Kathryn Zuba has been appointed as the Acting Associate Chief Counsel, Procedure and Administration. Ms. Zuba will head an office of more than 150 professionals, who provide legal services to the IRS, other components of the Chief Counsel’s Office, other government agencies, and the public in the areas of federal tax procedure and administration. The responsibilities of this office include matters relating to the reporting and payment of taxes; assessment and collection of taxes; the abatement, credit or refund of over-assessments or overpayments of taxes; the filing of information returns; bankruptcy; disclosure; FOIA; privacy law; litigation sanctions; judicial doctrines; ethics; and liaison with the courts.