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How to File Taxes if Married Filing Separately

Decide Against Filing Jointly


Determine how your spouse prefers to file. You must both agree to file either one joint return or two separate returns.


Determine whether your spouse will have a large tax bill. If you file separately, you are responsible only for your own tax bill.


Discover whether your spouse is lying to avoid a tax bill. If you file separately, you are not liable for your spouse's lies.


Calculate the tax bill using each of the married filing statuses. In some rare cases, a couple's total tax bill can be lower if both file separately.


Determine whether you should file separately from your spouse. If the answer is yes, go to Section 2.

Determine Whether You Are Considered Married


Determine whether you were legally married on December 31 of the tax year. If unmarried, try the "single" or "head of household" status.


Determine whether you were legally separated under a separate maintenance decree issued by a court as of December 31 of the tax year. If you were legally separated, try "single" or "head of household."


Determine whether you are considered unmarried. You are considered unmarried if you paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for your child and did not live with your spouse for even one day during the last six months of the tax year. If you are considered unmarried, try "head of household."


If you determine that you are considered married for the tax year, check the box for "married filing separately" on line 3 of the 1040 or 1040A form.

Tips and Warnings

  • "Head of household" is better than "single," and "single" is better than "married filing separately." Always use the best filing status available.
  • You are considered married for the tax year in the year your spouse died unless you remarried during the tax year or you fit the "considered unmarried" category.

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