Generally, both you and your spouse are responsible, jointly and individually, for paying any tax, interest, or penalties from your joint return. If you believe your current or former spouse should be solely responsible for an erroneous item or an underpayment of tax from your joint tax return, you may be eligible for innocent spouse relief.
There are actually three different types of Innocent Spouse Relief, and each one has slightly different qualifications. A basic overview is given below, but for a more detailed explanation you should consult an experienced tax attorney.
- Innocent Spouse Relief: you qualify if your spouse did not report income or claimed false deductions, and you did not know about it. Under this program, the IRS will not hold you liable for any of the debt.
- Separation of Liability: you qualify if your spouse did not report income or claimed false deductions, and you did not know about it. Under this program, the IRS will calculate your “fair share” of the tax debt based upon how much of the income on the return was yours and only hold you responsible for that amount.
- Equitable Relief: you qualify if your spouse did not report income or claimed false deductions, OR you just couldn’t pay the tax when you filed the return. If your issue is simply one of not being able to pay, this is the only program available to you. Under this program, you explain to the IRS what portion you should be held liable for and why that is the fair thing for them to do.
Being divorced or separated does not automatically qualify you for Innocent Spouse relief, but is a factor that the IRS considers. Innocent spouse relief may also be available if you were a resident of a community property state and did not file a joint federal income tax return and you believe you should not be held responsible for the tax attributable to an item of community income. You can apply for Innocent Spouse Relief using IRS Form 8857.