You and your spouse have always filed joint tax returns, but your spouse was the one who took care of the chore. You simply signed where they told you to. It seemed to work out well.
Then, perhaps because you were divorcing and were required to dig up all of your financial records, or perhaps because you got an unwelcome letter from the IRS, you learned that your spouse made some major errors over the years on your taxes. That meant you paid less than you owed. Perhaps they weren’t errors – maybe they just plain cheated.
Is there anything you can do to avoid having to share in back taxes, interest and penalties? You may be able to file for innocent spouse relief with the IRS. This would relieve you of having to pay any of the taxes, interest or penalties owed.
What is required to receive innocent spouse relief?
You need to prove that the errors or inaccuracies were your spouse’s fault, that you were completely unaware of them and had no reason to suspect that the information was inaccurate when you signed the forms. Further, the misreporting must be of your spouse’s income and not yours.
Every request for innocent spouse relief is considered individually. The IRS will look at things like your marriage, your education level and more. It’s crucial to know that your spouse will be notified of your filing and given a chance to present their side of the story.
Other types of spousal relief
If you aren’t granted innocent spouse relief, and you are no longer with your spouse, you may qualify for separation of liability relief. That’s where the total amount owed is divided between the two of you. To qualify, you must be either legally separated, divorced or widowed. Further, you cannot have lived with your spouse for at least a year before requesting relief.
There’s also something called injured spouse relief. That is something you can request if your spouse kept part of the refund that was meant for both of you.
As with anything involving the IRS, none of this is simple. If you are on the hook for back taxes, penalties and interest because of your spouse or ex-spouse, it’s wise to seek legal guidance to protect your own rights and interests.