Like many other factors in a marriage, taxation tend to be a shared responsibility whether receiving a refund or satisfying tax payments. Therefore, through the lens of the IRS, individuals who file a joint tax return has a shared responsibility regardless of the outcome. Due to this perception the IRS has established two ways in which a joint filer who is not responsible for his/her spouse's liability to act against this matter.
To do so taxpayers must file with the IRS claiming "injured" or "innocent" spouse status. These two terms are widely confused by the general public and at times tax professionals. Nevertheless, they represent two different things, yet still applies to joint filers who may be faced with the liability of their spouse.
An injured spouse is someone who's refund was or is presumed to be offset by their spouse's obligations, which in this case refers to taxes owed to government agencies, child support, delinquent student loan, etc. The liability at hand can not be a shared responsibility and must be proven to be the other spouse’s obligation alone.
To relay this information to the IRS, the injured spouse must file form 8379 with the return (electronically or mailed) or after the return has been filed. Filing this document let’s the IRS know that one spouse is seeking relief from an obligation that should have only been assessed to the other spouse.
Once the IRS receives form 8379, they then assess the joint return and evaluate it separately. This includes assessing each person’s income, taxes withheld, tax credits and deductions independently. After evaluation the IRS then mails the portion of the refund that the injured spouse should have received.
Filing this form for relief does take some time, depending on when the form was filed. For example, if the form was filed with the tax return it could take up to 14 weeks for the return and request to be process, while if the form was mailed in after the return was file it could take an additional 8 weeks for processing.
An innocent spouse is exactly what it sounds like. In a nutshell it is when one spouse is pleading to be innocent based on the IRS’s assessment of the filed joint tax return. This form of relief is seen as intense because it often pertains to negligence or fraudulent activities that was reported on the tax return. This is often due to one spouse under reporting income or wrongfully claiming write offs and deductions.
The spouse claiming innocent status must relay this information to the IRS using form 8857. Filing this form informs the IRS that the taxpayer is seeking relief of innocence from what their spouse has been assessed or accused of. Nevertheless, as the innocent spouse you must be able to prove that you had no prior knowledge of your spouse’s intentional reporting of unlawful information as of the date of signing and filing the tax return.
Filing a joint return can be very beneficial, however, the one downfall can be devastating to grasp. Therefore, before filing a return with your spouse ensure that they are in the clear with obligations owed to the IRS and any other government agencies. If not, simply file form 8379 to claim injured spouse status with the IRS. This way it’s made known to the IRS when processing the return that only one spouse is responsible for the prior obligations owed. In addition, ensure that before filing a joint return that you are satisfied and comfortable with the information that has been recorded, if not this could cause both you and your spouse financial and emotional distress.
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