Can the IRS hold you accountable if your spouse filed the taxes?

On Behalf of | Sep 16, 2022 | Tax Law

As a married couple, you and your spouse share your home. You share income and personal property. You also most likely file a joint tax return.

The process of filing taxes every year is both frustrating and time-consuming, so many people are quite happy to turn over that responsibility to their spouse when they get married. If your spouse offered to handle the taxes, you may have thanked them and simply signed your name on the return every year before sending it to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Now that your spouse faces tax evasion charges or you have received letters advising you of an upcoming audit, you may regret your decision to let your spouse handle tax matters for your family. Will you face the same financial and legal penalties that they do?

The IRS will work with innocent spouses

The IRS offers innocent spouse relief, which is a program that protects those affected by the misconduct or mistakes of a spouse. Provided that you did not know of the misconduct and did not directly benefit from it, you can potentially avoid any personal consequences for the tax mistakes made by your spouse.

Even if they engaged in intentional misconduct, you won’t necessarily have to shoulder financial or legal responsibility for their behavior. However, you will need to take careful steps to protect yourself.

How do you handle an upcoming tax issue?

Talking with your spouse can be an important starting point in the process of resolving a major tax issue. The information they share with you can inform what steps you take to protect yourself. Typically, prosecutors cannot compel you to testify against your spouse, so the discussion that you have won’t necessarily hurt your spouse’s legal case.

However, it could help you plan your own strategy. Frequently, when there are criminal charges involved, each of you may want to retain a separate attorney, as there could be a conflict of interest in raising an innocent spouse claim on your behalf if one lawyer represents you both.

There may be legal and financial steps that you need to take to protect yourself from the possibility of prosecution or major financial hardship because of your spouse’s tax mistakes. Learning more about what happens during a tax controversy could help you protect yourself when facing one.