Upon marriage, spouses can opt to file a joint tax return with the IRS because of the benefits the filing status offers the couple. However, after both taxpayers have signed on the dotted line, they are jointly and individually liable for the tax they will incur, along with any additions to the tax, penalties, and interests.
Should the couple decide to divorce, the joint and several liabilities still hold, meaning that each of them will remain legally responsible for any amount required of them – even if only one spouse has earned all the income or claimed improper deductions or credits.
Under the tax code, however, there is a way for one of the spouse to be released from the liabilities of the joint tax return, he or she can apply for innocent spouse relief with the IRS. If the conditions are met, the claimant will be relieved of owed additional taxes caused by the failure of the other spouse to report his or her income properly.
Three conditions must be met to qualify for innocent spouse relief: the understatement of the tax should be attributed to erroneous items of the other partner; the claimant had no previous knowledge of the understatement; and it is proven to be unfair to hold the claimant reliable for the understatement.
If not all the requirements have been met, IRS also awards partial relief by removing or refunding the penalties or interests incurred due to a particular item on the income return.
If the innocent spouse does not qualify at all for the innocent spouse relief, he or she can instead file for separation of liability relief or equitable relief.
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