US Federal Tax Services - Innocent Spouse Claims

Many married taxpayers choose to file joint tax returns because of certain benefits this filing status allows. Both taxpayers are jointly and severally liable for the tax, and any additions to tax, interest or penalties that arise as a result of the joint return — even if they later divorce.


Joint and several liability means that each taxpayer is legally responsible for the entire liability. Thus, both spouses are generally held responsible for all the tax due, even if one spouse earned all the income or claimed improper deductions or credits.

This is also true even if a divorce decree states that a former spouse will be responsible for any amounts due on previously filed joint returns.  In some cases, however, a spouse can get relief from joint and several liability.



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There are three types of relief from joint and several liability for spouses who filed joint returns:

  • Innocent spouse relief provides you relief from additional tax you owe if your spouse or former spouse failed to report income, reported income improperly or claimed improper deductions or credits.
  • Separation of liability relief provides for the allocation of additional tax owed between you and your former spouse or your current spouse from whom you are separated because an item was not reported properly on a joint return. The tax allocated to you is the amount for which you are responsible.
  • Equitable relief may apply when you do not qualify for innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief for something not reported properly on a joint return and generally attributable to your spouse. You may also qualify for equitable relief if the correct amount of tax was reported on your joint return but the tax remains unpaid.

© 2015 ERNEST LEE LLP. 

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