General Instructions

Note.

In these instructions, the term “your spouse or former spouse” means the person who was your spouse for the year(s) you want relief. This is the person whose name you enter on line 5.

Future Developments

For the latest information about developments related to Form 8857 and its instructions, such as legislation enacted after they were published, go to www.irs.gov/form8857.

What's New

The Internal Revenue Service has issued Revenue Procedure 2013-34, available at www.irs.gov/irb/2013-43_IRB/ar07.html. This revenue procedure expands how the IRS will take into account abuse and financial control by the nonrequesting spouse in determining whether equitable relief is warranted. It also broadens the availability of refunds in cases involving deficiencies. See the instructions for Line 31, later.

Purpose of Form

When you file a joint income tax return, the law makes both you and your spouse responsible for the entire tax liability. This is called joint and several liability. Joint and several liability applies not only to the tax liability you show on the return but also to any additional tax liability the IRS determines to be due, even if the additional tax is due to the income, deductions, or credits of your spouse or former spouse. You remain jointly and severally liable for taxes, and the IRS can still collect them from you, even if you later divorce and the divorce decree states that your former spouse will be solely responsible for the tax.

If you believe, taking into account all the facts and circumstances, only your spouse or former spouse should be held responsible for all or part of the tax, you should request relief from the tax liability, including related penalties and interest. To request relief, you must file Form 8857. The IRS will use the information you provide on the form, and any attachments you submit, to determine if you are eligible for relief. The IRS will contact you if additional information is needed.

Married people who did not file joint returns, but who lived in community property states may request relief from liability for tax attributable to an item of community income. Community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. See Community Property Laws, later.

Note.

We recognize that some of the questions on the form involve sensitive subjects. However, we need this information to evaluate the circumstances of your case and properly determine whether you qualify for relief.

Situations in Which You Should Not File Form 8857

Do not file Form 8857 for any tax year to which the following situations apply, even if you checked “Yes” on line 1.

  • In a final decision a court considered whether to grant you relief from the joint liability and decided not to do so.

  • In a final decision a court did not consider whether to grant you relief from the joint liability, but you meaningfully participated in the proceeding and could have asked for relief.

  • You entered into an offer in compromise with the IRS.

  • You entered into a closing agreement with the IRS that disposed of the same liability for which you want to seek relief. However, see Pub. 971, Innocent Spouse Relief, for an exception that applies to TEFRA partnership proceedings.

  • You answered “No” to question 1.

When To File

You should file Form 8857 as soon as you become aware of a tax liability for which you believe only your spouse or former spouse should be held responsible. The following are some of the ways you may become aware of such a liability.

  • The IRS is examining your tax return and proposing to increase your tax liability.

  • The IRS sends you a notice.

However, you generally must file Form 8857 no later than 2 years after the first IRS attempt to collect the tax from you. (But see the exceptions below for different filing deadlines that apply.) For this reason, do not delay filing because you do not have all the required documentation.

Collection activities that may start the 2-year period are:

  • The IRS offset your income tax refund against an amount you owed on a joint return for another year and the IRS informed you about your right to file Form 8857.

  • The filing of a claim by the IRS in a court proceeding in which you were a party or the filing of a claim in a proceeding that involves your property. This includes the filing of a proof of claim in a bankruptcy proceeding.

  • The filing of a suit by the United States against you to collect the joint liability.

  • The issuance of a section 6330 notice, which notifies you of the IRS' intent to levy and your right to a collection due process (CDP) hearing. The IRS usually sends a section 6330 notice by issuing a Letter 11 or Letter 1058.

Exception for equitable relief.   The amount of time to request equitable relief depends on whether you are seeking relief from a balance due, seeking a credit or refund, or both:
  • Balance Due – Generally, you must file your request within the time period the IRS has to collect the tax. Generally, the IRS has 10 years from the date the tax liability was assessed to collect the tax. In certain cases, the 10-year period is suspended. The amount of time the suspension is in effect will extend the time the IRS has to collect the tax. See Pub. 594, The IRS Collection Process, for details.

  • Credit or Refund – Generally, you must file your request within 3 years after the date the original return was filed or within 2 years after the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. But you may have more time to file if you live in a federally declared disaster area or you are physically or mentally unable to manage your financial affairs. See Pub. 556, Examination of Returns, Appeal Rights, and Claims for Refund, for details.

  • Both a Balance Due and a Credit or Refund – If you are seeking a refund of amounts you paid and relief from a balance due over and above what you have paid, the time period for credit or refund will apply to any payments you have made, and the time period for collection of a balance due amount will apply to any unpaid liability.

Exception for relief from liability for tax attributable to an item of community income.   If you are requesting relief from liability for tax attributable to an item of community income (other than equitable relief), a different filing deadline applies. See Relief from liability for tax attributable to an item of community income, discussed later under Community Property Laws. The time in which to request equitable relief from liability for tax attributable to an item of community income follows the rules for equitable relief, earlier.

Where To File

Do not file Form 8857 with your tax return or the Tax Court. Instead, mail it to one of the following addresses. 
 
If using the U.S. Postal Service:

Internal Revenue Service 
P.O. Box 120053 
Covington, KY 41012

If using a private delivery service:

Internal Revenue Service 
201 W. Rivercenter Blvd., Stop 840F 
Covington, KY 41011

Alternatively, you can fax the form and attachments to the IRS at 855-233-8558.

For a list of private delivery services you can use to meet the “timely mailing as timely filing” rule for filing Form 8857 by the deadline, go to IRS.gov and enter “Private Delivery Services” in the search box.

Write your name and social security number on any attachments.

Send it to one of the above addresses or fax it to the above number even if you are communicating with an IRS employee because of an examination, examination appeal, or collection.

If you received an IRS notice of deficiency, you also should file a petition with the Tax Court before the end of the 90-day period, as explained in the notice. In your petition, you should raise innocent spouse relief as a defense to the deficiency. By doing so, you preserve your rights if the IRS is unable to properly consider your request before the end of the 90-day period. Include the information that supports your position, including when and why you filed Form 8857 with the IRS, in your petition to the Tax Court. The time for filing with the Tax Court is not extended while the IRS is considering your request.

The IRS Must Contact Your Spouse or Former Spouse

By law, the IRS must contact your spouse or former spouse. There are no exceptions, even for victims of spousal abuse or domestic violence.

We will inform your spouse or former spouse that you filed Form 8857 and will allow him or her to participate in the process. If you are requesting relief from joint and several liability on a joint return, the IRS must also inform him or her of its preliminary and final determinations regarding your requested relief.

To protect your privacy, the IRS will not disclose your personal information (such as your current name, address, phone number(s), or information about your employer, your income, or your assets). Any other information you provide that the IRS uses to make a determination about your request for relief from liability could be disclosed to the person you list on line 5. If you have concerns about your privacy or the privacy of others, you should redact or black out personal information in the material you submit.

If you petition the Tax Court (explained later under What Happens After You File Form 8857), your spouse or former spouse may see your personal information, unless you ask the Tax Court to withhold it.

Types of Relief

Four types of relief are available. They are:

  1. Innocent spouse relief.

  2. Separation of liability relief.

  3. Equitable relief.

  4. Relief from liability for tax attributable to an item of community income. (See Community Property Laws, later).

Innocent Spouse Relief

You may be allowed innocent spouse relief only if all of the following apply.

  • You filed a joint return for the year(s) entered on line 3.

  • There is an understated tax on the return(s) that is due to erroneous items (defined below) of the person with whom you filed the joint return.

  • You can show that when you signed the return(s) you did not know and had no reason to know that the understated tax existed (or the extent to which the understated tax existed).

  • Taking into account all the facts and circumstances, it would be unfair to hold you liable for the understated tax.

Understated tax.   You have an understated tax if the IRS determined that your total tax should be more than the amount actually shown on the return.

Example.

You and your former spouse filed a joint return showing $5,000 of tax, which was fully paid. The IRS later examines the return and finds $10,000 of income that your former spouse earned but did not report. With the additional income, the total tax becomes $6,500. The understated tax is $1,500, for which you and your former spouse are both liable.

Erroneous items.    Any income, deduction, credit, or basis is an erroneous item if it is omitted from or incorrectly reported on the joint return.

Partial innocent spouse relief.   If you knew about any of the erroneous items, but not the full extent of the item(s), you may be allowed relief for the part of the understatement you did not know about.

Additional information.   For additional information on innocent spouse relief, see Pub. 971.

Separation of Liability Relief

You may be allowed separation of liability relief for any understated tax (defined above) shown on the joint return(s) if the person with whom you filed the joint return is deceased or you and that person:

  • Are now divorced,

  • Are now legally separated, or

  • Have lived apart at all times during the 12-month period prior to the date you file Form 8857.

See Pub. 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals, for details on divorce and separation.

Exception.    If, at the time you signed the joint return, you knew about any item that resulted in part or all of the understated tax, then your request will not apply to that part of the understated tax.

Additional information.   For additional information on separation of liability relief, see Pub. 971.

Equitable Relief

You may be allowed equitable relief if both of the following conditions are met.

  • You have an understated tax (defined earlier) or unpaid tax (defined next), and

  • Taking into account all the facts and circumstances, the IRS determines it would be unfair to hold you liable for the understated or unpaid tax.

Equitable relief is the only type of relief available for an unpaid tax.

Unpaid tax.   An unpaid tax is tax that is properly shown on your return but has not been paid.

  

Example.

You and your former spouse filed a joint return that properly reflects your income and deductions but showed an unpaid balance due of $5,000. The unpaid tax is $5,000. You gave your former spouse $2,500 and he or she promised to pay the full $5,000, but paid nothing. There is still an unpaid tax of $5,000, for which you and your former spouse are both liable.

Additional information.    For additional information on equitable relief, see Pub. 971 and Rev. Proc. 2013-34.

Community Property Laws

Generally, you must follow community property laws when filing a tax return if you are married and live in a community property state. Community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Generally, community property laws provide that you and your spouse are both entitled to one-half of your total community income and expenses. If you and your spouse filed a joint return in a community property state, you are both jointly and severally liable for the total liability on the return. If you request relief from joint and several liability, state community property laws are not taken into account in determining whether an item belongs to you or your spouse or former spouse.

If you were a married resident of a community property state, but did not file a joint return and are now liable for an unpaid or understated tax, check “Yes” on line 1. You have the following two ways to get relief.

1. Relief from liability for tax attributable to an item of community income.    You are not responsible for the tax related to an item of community income if all of the following conditions exist.
  • You did not file a joint return for the tax year.

  • You did not include the item in gross income on your separate return.

  • Under section 879(a), the item was income that belonged to your spouse or former spouse. For details, see Community Property Laws, in Pub. 971.

  • You establish that you did not know of, and had no reason to know of, that item.

  • Under all facts and circumstances, it would not be fair to include the item in your gross income.

  If you meet the above conditions, complete this form.

  You must file Form 8857 no later than 6 months before the expiration of the period of limitations on assessment (including extensions) against your spouse or former spouse for the tax year for which you are requesting relief. However, if the IRS begins an examination of your return during that 6-month period, the latest time for requesting relief is 30 days after the date of the IRS' initial contact letter to you. The period of limitations on assessment is the amount of time, generally 3 years, that the IRS has from the date you filed the return to assess taxes that you owe.

2. Equitable relief.   If you do not qualify for the relief described in (1) above and are now liable for an unpaid or understated tax you believe should be paid only by your spouse or former spouse, you may request equitable relief. See Equitable Relief, earlier.

What Happens After You File Form 8857

We will review your form for completeness and contact your spouse or former spouse to ask if he or she wants to participate in the process. Generally, once we have all of the necessary information to make a decision, we will send a preliminary determination letter to you and your spouse or former spouse. If neither of you appeals the decision, we will issue a final determination letter to both of you. If either or both of you appeal to the IRS Office of Appeals, Appeals will issue a final determination letter to both of you after consideration of your appeal.

Note.

If you did not file a joint return for the year you are requesting relief, we will send the determination letters only to you.

Tax Court review of request.   You may be able to petition (ask) the Tax Court to review your request for relief (other than a request for relief from liability for tax attributable to an item of community income) if:
  • The IRS sends you a final determination letter regarding your request for relief, or

  • You do not receive a final determination letter from the IRS within 6 months from the date you filed Form 8857.

The petition must be filed no later than the 90th day after the date the IRS mails you a final determination letter. If you do not file a petition, or if you file it late, the Tax Court cannot review your request for relief. See Pub. 971 for details on petitioning the Tax Court.

Collection Statute of Limitations

Generally, the IRS has 10 years to collect an amount you owe. This is the collection statute of limitations. By law, the IRS is not allowed to collect from you after the 10-year period ends.

If you request relief for any tax year, the IRS cannot collect from you for that year while your request is pending. But interest and penalties continue to accrue. Your request is generally considered pending from the date the IRS receives your Form 8857 until the date your request is resolved. This includes the time the Tax Court is considering your request.

After your case is resolved, the IRS can begin or resume collecting from you any tax for which you are determined to remain responsible. The 10-year period will be increased by the amount of time your request for relief was pending plus 60 days.

How To Get Help

See Pub. 971, Innocent Spouse Relief. To get Pub. 971 and other IRS forms and publications, go to IRS.gov or call 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

The IRS can help you with your request. If you are working with an IRS employee, you can ask that employee, or you can call 1-855-851-2009.

You can use the Innocent Spouse Tax Relief Eligibility Explorer by going to IRS.gov and entering “Innocent Spouse” in the search box.

The Taxpayer Advocate Service Is Here To Help You

 
 
The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is your voice at the IRS. Our job is to ensure that every taxpayer is treated fairly and that you know and understand your rights.  
 
What can TAS do for you? We can offer you free help with IRS problems that you can't resolve on your own. We know this process can be confusing, but the worst thing you can do is nothing at all! TAS can help if you can't resolve your problems with the IRS and: 

  • Your problem is causing financial difficulties for you, your family, or your business.

  • You face (or your business is facing) an immediate threat of adverse action.

  • You have tried repeatedly to contact the IRS but no one has responded, or the IRS has not responded to you by the date promised.

 
 
If you qualify for our help, you'll be assigned to one advocate who'll be with you at every turn and will do everything possible to resolve your problem. Here's why we can help: 

  • TAS is an independent organization within the IRS.

  • Our advocates know how to work with the IRS.

  • Our services are free and tailored to meet your needs.

  • We have offices in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

 
 
How can you reach us? If you think TAS can help you, call your local advocate, whose number is in your local directory and at www.irs.gov/advocate, or call us toll-free at 1-877-777-4778. 
 
How else does TAS help taxpayers? 
 
TAS also handles large-scale, systemic problems that affect many taxpayers. If you know of one of these broad issues, please report it through the Systemic Advocacy Management System at www.irs.gov/sams
 
For additional information about TAS, visit www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov or see Pub. 1546, The Taxpayer Advocate Service of the IRS – How to Get Help With Unresolved Tax Problems.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) serve individuals whose income is below a certain level and need to resolve tax problems such as audits, appeals and tax collection disputes. Some clinics can provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language. Visit www.irs.gov/litc or see IRS Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List.

Representation

You may either represent yourself or, with proper written authorization, have someone else represent you. Your representative must be someone who is allowed to practice before the IRS, such as an attorney, certified public accountant, or enrolled agent (a person enrolled to practice before the IRS). Use Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, to authorize someone else to represent you before the IRS.


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