What to Do if You File Jointly but are Getting Divorced

Until a divorce decree becomes final, you and your spouse have the option of filing as “married joint” or “married separate”, both of which have positives and negatives that will be explored in this article. One thing to remember is whatever your marital status is as of December 31, is what will be reflected in your taxes.

If you are unable to file a joint return, you can file as head of household, which has benefits in itself, but that would only be permissible if you have a dependent living with you for more than half the year, and you paid for more than half of the maintenance for your home. Your filing status influences your tax rate and determines which credits you can claim. Filing together can result in a lower tax bill as opposed to filing separately, so the IRS has recommended calculating your tax liability as single and joint filers to learn which offers you both the most savings from the options available.

Filing jointly could have risks as well, since you now share the responsibility for any taxes due, along with associated penalties and any accrued interest. That means if your estranged spouse skips out on his or her taxes, it is now you who is responsible for paying them. Additionally, the IRS may or may not relieve you from your partner’s tax debts, depending on the investigation.

Because it is known that sometimes your tax burden can be lower by filing jointly, depending on your specific incomes, deductions, and credits, filing status can be used as a negotiating tool, because, in most scenarios, both spouses must agree to file a joint return. However, a court will not order unwilling spouses to file a joint return. In rare circumstances, the IRS will accept a joint return signed by only one spouse, but you would have to consult with a tax attorney to go about this particular filing process.  

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