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Introduction to Innocent Spouses



Many married taxpayers choose to file a joint tax return because of certain benefits this filing status allows. Both taxpayers are jointly and individually responsible for the tax and any interest or penalty due on the joint return even if they later divorce. This is true even if a divorce decree states that a former spouse will be responsible for any amounts due on previously filed joint returns. One spouse may be held responsible for all the tax due even if all the income was earned by the other spouse.

In some cases, a spouse will be relieved of the tax, interest, and penalties on a joint tax return. Three types of relief are available.

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

This article explains these types of relief, who may qualify for them, and how to get them. Each type of relief has different requirements. They are explained separately in different parts of this article. Read each part to see if you qualify for that type of relief.

Table 1 compares the rules for these three types of relief. You may also want to see Questions & Answers for a list of questions and answers about these types of relief.

You are not required to figure the tax, interest, and penalties that qualify for relief. The IRS will figure these amounts after you file Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief.

Three Types of Relief At A Glance

You can only qualify for equitable relief if you do not qualify for innocent spouse relief or relief by separation of liability.

Married persons who file separate returns in community property states may also qualify for relief. See Community Property Laws, later.

What this article does not cover. This article does not discuss filing an injured spouse claim. You are an injured spouse if your share of the overpayment shown on your joint return was, or is expected to be, applied against your spouse's past-due federal debts, state taxes, or child or spousal support payments. 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.

Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 15-Oct-2014