Two recent court decisions have reemphasized how difficult it can be for a nonresident with a California spouse to avoid California income tax. Difficult, but not impossible.
Why The Cases Are Important
The opinions were issued by California’s Office of Tax Appeals, the state’s new administrative tribunal for determining tax appeals. Though nonprecedential (meaning they cannot be cited in future cases), the decisions are important because they are the first cases involving the issue of married couples with separate residency heard by the OTA since it took over appellate responsibility from the State Board of Equalization in 2018. As such, the cases offer some insight into how to plan for separate residency situations.
The first case, In the Matter of the Appeal of Hyginus Offor, OTA Case No. 18011264, affirms the longstanding and often misunderstood rule that while married couples can have separate residency, their income remains reportable community income unless the nonresident spouse also changes domicile from California or maintains out-of-state domicile. The decision starkly illustrates how domicile and residency are related, if legally distinct concepts; and sometimes both have to be managed to avoid California income taxes for spouses planning to have separate residency status.