What does innocent spouse relief mean?

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.

With an “Innocent Spouse Relief,” a spouse can get 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.

Many married taxpayers choose to file a joint tax return because of certain benefits this filing status allows them. When filing jointly, both taxpayers are jointly and severally liable for the tax and any additions to tax, interest, or penalties that arise from 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 on a married filing jointly return 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 being jointly and severally liable.

What are the types of relief available?

You must request innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief no later than 2 years after the date the IRS first attempted to collect the tax from you.

We can help obtain an “Innocent Spouse Relief” and we will determine if you qualify for the relief.

There are three types of relief from the joint and several liability of a joint return:

  • 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 separate allocation of additional tax owed between you and your former spouse or your current spouse you’re legally separated from or not living with, when an item wasn’t reported properly on a joint return. You’re then responsible for the amount of tax allocated to you.
  • Equitable Relief may apply when you don’t 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 amount of tax reported is correct on your joint return but the tax wasn’t paid with the return.
  • What are the requirements?

    Innocent Spouse Relief

    You must meet all of the following conditions to qualify for innocent spouse relief:

  • You filed a joint return that has an understatement of tax (deficiency) that’s solely attributable to your spouse’s erroneous item. An erroneous item includes income received by your spouse but omitted from the joint return. Deductions, credits, and property basis are also erroneous items if they’re incorrectly reported on the joint return.
  • You establish that at the time you signed the joint return you didn’t know, and had no reason to know, that there was an understatement of tax.
  • Taking into account all the facts and circumstances, it would be unfair to hold you liable for the understatement of tax.

  • Separation of Liability Relief

    To qualify for separation of liability relief, you must have filed a joint return and must meet one of the following requirements at the time you request relief:

  • You’re divorced or legally separated from the spouse with whom you filed the joint return.
  • You’re widowed.
  • You haven’t been a member of the same household as the spouse with whom you filed the joint return at any time during the 12-month period ending on the date you request relief.

  • Equitable Relief

    If you don’t qualify for innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief, you may still qualify for equitable relief.

  • To qualify for equitable relief, you must establish that under all the facts and circumstances, it would be unfair to hold you liable for the understatement or underpayment of tax. In addition, you must meet the other requirements listed in Publication 971, Innocent Spouse Relief.
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