The New Year is the time for fresh starts and the perfect time to clean out any of those little financial skeletons you may have lurking around in your closet. As a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and personal finance consulting for families, I'm used to tackling some pretty touchy parenting subjects. But one of the touchiest, by far, is when I broach the big question with a couple and confront the elephant in the room head on: are you guys paying your nanny taxes? And after listening to lots of answers, I've noticed that most people share the same three major misunderstandings when it comes to childcare and the tax system.

Myth 1: As Long as We Pay Our Nanny With a Check, We're All Good

I'm afraid it doesn't work that way. Even if you give your caregiver a check, you may still have an obligation to pay those infamous nanny taxes you hear so much about.

That said, paying somebody "above the table" is certainly the right thing to do. Handing someone wads of cash you know they're not declaring isn't a good feeling for anyone. And there's no question, it sets a lousy example for your child. (Kids pick up quickly on your attitudes and habits about money, and it's never too early to start off on the right foot.)

Another bonus to using checks: it's much easier for families to stick to a realistic household budget when they know how much they really spend, and I've found that many couples underestimate their family's overhead. I suggest taking a good, hard look at your family's finances from 2011, so you can make meaningful improvements for 2012.

Pick a quiet evening with your partner, print out your bank and credit card statements, and see where your money actually goes every month (bet they'll be some surprises!). Checks are the best way to keep track of how much you actually pay for your childcare and home expenses.

Myth 2: As Long as Our Nanny Is Part-Time, We Don't Have to Worry About Anything

Oh, if only it were that easy. But again, the IRS doesn't work that way. They don't care about the number of hours your nanny works for you. They look at how much she earns per year. So whether you call it a "full-time" or a "part-time" position, you may still owe various State, Federal, Payroll, and Unemployment Taxes.

Many parents I've interviewed for my book are shocked to learn how low the amount is. For the past two years, the IRS has required people to pay certain taxes on any household worker who makes more than $1700 — a number you get to pretty quickly with a regular babysitter.

I advise every parent with a nanny reading this to meet with an accountant or a lawyer to talk about your specific situation, and then, if you feel confident enough to do the paper work on your own, there are plenty of forms and websites online that will help you calculate, pay, and keep track of the tax payments.

But here's the best news so far: once parents get everything set up online or with their accountant, they're always surprised how much easier it was than they expected, and how much less it ended up costing than they would have guessed. Like most of the things I write about, it's the unknown that causes the most stress for parents. Once you cross this off your list, you'll be kicking yourself that you hadn't done it sooner.

Myth 3: Nobody Pays Taxes for Their Nanny, and Nobody Ever Gets Caught

Responsible parents don't roll the dice on important legal and financial issues. And keep in mind, what people say they do and what people actually do can be two very different things. You have no idea who's really paying their nanny's taxes and who isn't.

It may be that the IRS comes after only a handful of people, here and there. But just like writing a will and choosing a guardian is a non-negotiable part of being a good parent, so is paying your taxes. Also, if the IRS does come knocking, you'll owe the back taxes, and any interest and penalties — which all snowballs very quickly.

There's no question parenting has some trying moments. I personally couldn't function during the 4 a.m. feeding-phase and I live in fear of toddler tummy bugs, especially when my husband is traveling — which, of course, is when they always strike. But it all comes with the territory, and once you get through it, you realize it's never as awful you think it's going to be — just like paying your nanny taxes.