When you file a joint income tax return, the law makes both you and your spouse responsible for the entire tax liability. This is called joint and several liability. Joint and several liability applies not only to the tax liability you show on the return but also to any additional tax liability the IRS or California state tax authorities determines to be due, even if the additional tax is due to income, deductions, or credits of your spouse or former spouse. You remain jointly and severally liable for the taxes, and the IRS or state tax authorities still can collect from you, even if you later divorce and the divorce decree states that your former spouse will be solely responsible for the tax.
In some cases, a spouse (or former spouse) will be relieved of the tax, interest, and penalties on a joint tax return. Three types of relief are available to married persons who filed joint returns.
- Innocent spouse relief. By requesting innocent spouse relief, you can be relieved of responsibility for paying tax, interest, and penalties if your spouse (or former spouse) improperly reported items or omitted items on your tax return.
- Separation of liability relief. Under this type of relief, the understated tax (plus interest and penalties) on your joint return is allocated between you and your spouse (or former spouse). The understated tax allocated to you is generally the amount you are responsible for.
- Equitable relief. If you do not qualify for innocent spouse relief, separation of liability relief, or relief from liability arising from community property law, you may still be relieved of responsibility for tax, interest, and penalties through equitable relief.
In 2013 the IRS expanded the scope of equitable innocent spouse relief to make it a little easier.
If you qualify, innocent spouse relief can be a powerful tool to relieve your IRS or state tax liabilities. Call us today to learn more about the program and see if it is right for you.