Publication 971

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Innocent Spouse Relief (And Separation of Liability and Equitable Relief)

Overview

When you file a joint income tax return, the law makes both you and your spouse responsible for the entire tax liability. This is called joint and several liability. Joint and several liability applies not only to the tax liability you show on the return but also to any additional tax liability the IRS determines to be due, even if the additional tax is due to income, deductions, or credits of your spouse or former spouse. You remain jointly and severally liable for the taxes, and the IRS still can collect from you, even if you later divorce and the divorce decree states that your former spouse will be solely responsible for the tax.

In some cases, a spouse (or former spouse) will be relieved of the tax, interest, and penalties on a joint tax return. Three types of relief are available to married persons who filed joint returns.

  1. Innocent spouse relief.
  2. Separation of liability relief.
  3. Equitable relief.

Married persons who did not file joint returns, but who live in community property states, may also qualify for relief. See Community Property Laws, later.

This publication explains these types of relief, who may qualify for them, and how to get them. You can also use the Innocent Spouse Tax Relief Eligibility Explorer at www.irs.gov to see if you qualify for innocent spouse relief. Click on “Individuals,” “Tax Information for Innocent Spouses,” and “Explore if you are an Eligible Innocent Spouse.”

What this publication does not cover:

This publication does not discuss injured spouse relief. You are an injured spouse if your share of the overpayment shown on your joint return was, or is expected to be, applied (offset) against your spouse's legally enforceable past-due federal taxes, state taxes, child or spousal support payments, or a federal nontax debt, such as a student loan. If you are an injured spouse, you may be entitled to receive a refund of your share of the overpayment. For more information, get Form 8379, Injured Spouse Claim and Allocation.

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