Historically, tax issues arising from bad marriages fell into the category of “for better or worse.” The IRS granted no innocent spouse tax relief, but has changed its views.
When a marriage has problems, finances are almost always one of the elements that contribute to the strife. This can be particularly true where spouses file a joint tax return, which the both sign as tax payers. If the information provided on the tax return is false or inaccurate, the IRS has historically viewed both spouses as liable for the resulting assessments. If the relevant taxes were not paid, the IRS would also look to both spouses to pay the delinquent amount. In worse case scenarios, this can include criminal charges for tax evasion.
Fortunately, the IRS has modified its view of the liability of joint filers. The IRS now recognizes that innocent spouses can’t control their deadbeat former spouses. It allows such innocent spouses to claim three types of tax relief:
1. Innocent Spouse Relief
2. Relief by Separation of Liability
3. Equitable Relief
If the IRS comes after you for the tax liability of a former spouse, you can seek tax relief under these three theories if you meet all the following requirements. First, you filed a joint return with inaccurate information. Second, you didn’t know of the inaccuracies and didn’t have any reason to. Finally, taking into consideration the situation, holding you liable for the tax would be unfair.
The IRS will evaluate your application and render a ruling on your application. The IRS may agree to simply waive any tax claim against you and go after the deadbeat spouse as the sole debtor. Alternatively, the IRS may split the tax into a his and her account, only requiring you to pay one half of the amount due. While this may not sound great, it will immediately cut your tax bill in half.
In rare cases, you can seek equitable relief from the IRS. Equitable relief simply is another way of saying making you pay the tax would be manifestly unfair. You must show you and the spouse did not transfer assets as part of an fraudulent scheme, didn’t transfer assets with the intention of evading taxes, didn’t intend to commit fraud, didn’t pay the taxes due and you didn’t know what your spouse was up to. Equitable relief claims need to be handled very carefully as the IRS views them with a very cynical eye. Nonetheless, they are a last step that can be taken when all else has failed.
Have a Federal Tax Issue? The Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic – Low Income Taxpayer Clinic can consult with you to provide advice regarding your IRS tax issues, and/or potentially act on your behalf for FREE if you qualify for assistance (come to a clinic intake session)!
Jim Floyd is the Staff Enrolled Agent at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic – Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.
As an Enrolled Agent, Jim is a federally-licensed tax practitioner with unlimited rights to represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service. This means he is unrestricted as to which taxpayers he can represent, what types of tax matters he can handle, and which IRS offices he can represent clients before. Enrolled agent status is the highest credential the IRS awards.
To attain the enrolled agent designation, candidates must demonstrate expertise in taxation, fulfill continuing education credits, and adhere to a stringent code of ethics.