Even though my spouse and I filed jointly, do I bear liability for his or her taxes?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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When you file federal income taxes jointly, both parties assume the tax liability owed. However, under the innocent spouse provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, a spouse can be excused from tax liability if he or she can prove that they are an innocent spouse, and it would be unfair for them to be held responsible for the tax liability of the other. If you believe you qualify as an innocent spouse, contact an experienced tax attorney.

Under IRS section 6015, an innocent spouse is any spouse who is either legally separated or divorced, but has been listed jointly on their respective spouse’s taxes. While you are personally responsible for verifying your own tax liability, the IRS will not leave you responsible for income that you neither earned nor enjoyed. Under the IRS provision there are three possible scenarios wherein relief will be granted to an innocent spouse:

  • The first scenario involves your spouse forcing you to sign the tax document through some form of threat or other forceful persuasion. The legal term for this scenario is duress. In instances of duress, the IRS requires an explanation of the duress for evaluation. Examples of duress situations include threats against yourself, your children, or your property.
  • The second scenario is a forged signature. Your signature is considered forged when your spouse signs your name on the tax document without your express consent or against your wishes.
  • The final scenario that frees an innocent spouse from tax liability is a circumstance in which the innocent spouse would be injured by the liability. For example, if you and your spouse are divorced and your spouse makes far more money than you, but has filed the income under your name, the tax liability is not actually yours and to be forced to pay the liability would be considered harmful to you.

If you feel your tax liability may fall under the innocent spouse provisions, contact a tax attorney for further information.

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