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Payroll on Point: Change in Marital Status and Form W-4

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

By Debbie Tam

Question: One of our employees just got divorced. Does she have to file a new federal Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Certificate, now that they’re no longer married?

Answer: An employee is required to provide an updated Form W-4 when a change in personal circumstances reduces the amount of withholding the employee is entitled to claim. By law, the employee is required to furnish a new W-4 within ten days when personal circumstances impact withholding.

Checkmark Potential impact on Form W-4: Due to changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Form W-4 was redesigned beginning with the 2020 tax year through the 2025 tax year. The form contains a five-step process and worksheets to help an employee determine his/her federal income tax withholding. An employee’s filing status determines the standard deduction and tax rates used to compute withholding (Step 1). Any change in filing status will increase or decrease withholding. In the case of a divorce, withholding tax will increase under a single filing status. Additionally, when an employee is married and both parties work, this may impact withholding as well in cases where the married couple work more than two total jobs (Step 2). Further, if a child is involved, whether the employee will claim the child as a dependent will further impact withholding (Step 3). Finally, the employee may have changes in deductions that may need to be adjusted on Form W-4 as well due to a divorce (Step 4).

The employer must put the newly furnished W-4 into effect no later than with the first payment of wages on or after the 30th day from the day the form was received.

Also, an employee’s state withholding may be impacted. The employee may also need to complete a new state withholding certificate to reflect the new marital status. State withholding certificates vary. Some states permit the use of federal Form W-4 to determine state withholding, while other states require the use of their state form. Note that some states continue to use allowances to determine state withholding.

Checkpoint resources.

  • Payroll Guide ¶4010 Employee Withholding Certificate (Form W-4)
  • Payroll Guide ¶5010 WITHHOLDING CERTIFICATES; Withholding Allowance/Exemption Certificates
  • Payroll Charts > Federal and State Withholding > Withholding Allowance Certificates — Form #
  • Payroll Charts > Federal and State Withholding > Use of Federal Form W-4


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