Should I file an innocent spouse form?

August 13, 2020 by Steve Banner, EA, MBA
woman distressed about tax bill

We have all seen enough movies and read enough books that we can almost recite by heart the vows that dewy-eyed couples typically take at their wedding ceremonies. The pledge taken by each person regarding their new life partner often includes promises such as:

“…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…”

These vows and the marriage ceremony itself also serve to join the couple together in the eyes of the law and society. Regardless of whether a change of family name is made by either partner in conjunction with the marriage, the pair are now legally regarded as a new entity as they start their married life together. From the viewpoint of the Internal Revenue Service, the newlyweds now have the right to file their tax returns either separately or as a couple.

The key difference between the “Married Filing Separate” status (MFS) and “Married Filing Joint” (MFJ) is that the two individuals who sign a MFJ tax return are acknowledging with their signatures that each person is “joint and severally liable” for the debts of the other. This is a fancy way of saying that if one person owes money to the IRS and can’t pay, the IRS has the legal right to get the money from their spouse. (This is where the “for richer, for poorer” part of the marriage vows comes into play!)

Under normal conditions, we would expect to see a couple pool funds in a situation like this and make the necessary arrangements to ensure that the IRS gets what it is owed. However, the internet and cable news channels have taught us that marriages don’t always last forever (which is where the “till death do us part” portion of the vows gets put to the test). And an unexpected tax bill incurred by one spouse without the knowledge of the other can sometimes be the tipping point for a marriage that is already on shaky ground. Fortunately, the tax code offers financial relief for individuals who find themselves in situations such as this, where the law would hold them accountable for debts incurred without their knowledge or permission.

An individual who finds themselves in this position may qualify to be relieved of the responsibility for paying some or even all of the tax, penalties, and interest on a tax debt or underpayment if they meet the conditions for Innocent Spouse Relief. But each person’s case is different, and it would be wise to seek professional advice on the best course of action. TaxAudit offers a free consultation for taxpayers in this position, and more information can be found at the following URL:

Those taxpayers who do not qualify for Innocent Spouse Relief may be eligible for another type of tax debt relief. More information on this subject, including how to get a free consultation to discuss your case, can be found at:

Coming back to the original question about whether you should file an innocent spouse form, the answer depends entirely on the circumstances of your individual case. But the good news is that professional help and advice are right at your fingertips.

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Steve Banner, EA, MBA
Tax Content Developer


Steve Banner began his career in the field of income tax in 1977 and has since gathered business experience in a variety of countries and cultures. In addition to the United States, he has lived and worked for extended periods in Australia, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Sweden. Along the way he studied Adult Education and earned a Bachelor of Education, Master of Educational Administration, and MBA. He joined TaxAudit in 2016, where he is a Tax Content Developer.


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