There are various benefits and drawbacks associated with filing a joint tax return as a married couple. A Texas couple who files a joint return often enjoys a lower tax liability than if they had filed separately, but this is not true for all taxpayers. Additionally, joint filers are considered jointly and severally liable for each other’s’ taxes, meaning that the IRS can collect one spouse’s unpaid taxes from the other spouse.
While innocent spouse relief can excuse one from having to pay a spouse’s delinquent taxes, it has historically been somewhat difficult to obtain. Internal Revenue Code 6015 allows officials to grant innocent spouse relief to joint tax return filers. An official can consider a number of factors when deciding whether to grant an applicant innocent spouse relief, including his or her marital status or financial situation. However, both the IRS and the U.S. Tax Court adopted a narrow interpretation of the code, rarely granting relief to applicants.
Recent changes to the tax code have expanded the availability of innocent spouse relief, effectively creating incentives for couples who file joint tax returns. The IRS issued Notice 2012-8 in 2012 with the goal of increasing the availability of innocent spouse relief. The Notice is particularly beneficial for individuals who have suffered physical, mental or emotional abuse by their spouses or have little control over their finances. Applicants who fit this description should include notarized statements, police reports or other documents detailing their abuse with their applications.
The changes have already benefited many individuals who were previously denied relief. For instance, one taxpayer was denied innocent tax relief following a Tax Court trial, but easily obtained it with a second application after the implementation of Notice 2012-8. Likewise, another taxpayer was unable to secure relief from the IRS Innocent Spouse Office, but eventually won it after taking the matter up with the IRS Appeals Office.
Source: Forbes.com, “IRS Expands Availability of Innocent Spouse Relief,” Stephen J. Dunn, Dec. 15, 2012