As with all things related to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), there are rules regarding the filing of taxes as a married couple. These rules have an impact on your eligibility to file as a married couple and sometimes on the amount of taxes owed or refund received.
The December 31st Rule
The IRS considers a couple married for the whole year if they were married on the last day of the tax year, December 31. Likewise, if the couple divorces on or before the last day of the year, they are considered single for the whole year. Divorce is never an easy decision, and the tax implications can have devastating effects, before you get a divorce, consider calling your tax professional and do a little planning first.
The IRS "considers" a couple married if they meet one of four tests. The December 31 rule applies as the tests rely on the status of the couple on or before that day. The four tests include the following:
a. You are married and living together as husband and wife.
b. You are living together in a common law marriage either recognized in the state where you live now, or in the state where the common law marriage began.
c. You are married and living apart, but not legally separated or divorced.
d. You are separated but not divorced.
Exception to the Rule
For those couples who have been separated, and the spouse has not lived in their home in the last seven months of the tax year and has not provided more than half the support, a spouse has the option of claiming head of household status if dependents are involved. The Head of Household status grants a larger standard deduction than filing Married Filing Separate or as a Single.
Responsibility of the Spouse
If a joint return is filed, each spouse has a joint responsibility in the payment of taxes owed. This responsibility extends beyond either the divorce or death of a spouse. The divorced or surviving spouse can be held liable for the taxes owed by the other spouse, even if the divorce decree requires the other spouse to pay it.
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