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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. The three types of relief available are:

  • Innocent spouse relief
  • Separation of liability
  • Equitable relief

Each type of relief has different requirements. Three Types of Relief at a Glance compares the rules for these three types of relief. You may also want to refer to Innocent Spouse Questions & Answers for more information 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.

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

Injured Spouse

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 for your share of the overpayment. For more information, get Form 8379, Injured Spouse Claim and Allocation (PDF).


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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 28-Nov-2016