Equitable Relief

Equitable relief can relieve you from paying taxes if your spouse understated or underpaid taxes due on your joint tax return and it would be unfair to hold you responsible.

Taxes are understated if your spouse:

  • Didn't report all income
  • Took deductions or credits they were not eligible for
  • Didn't accurately report the value of assets

On This Page

Types of Taxes Covered by Equitable Relief
You May Be Eligible
What to Do If You Receive a Notice
Factors That Determine Fairness
Knowledge or Reason to Know
When to Request Equitable Relief
How to Request Relief
After You Request Relief
Appeal a Decision

Types of Taxes Covered by Equitable Relief

Equitable relief is generally granted only for taxes due on your spouse's income and assets. You can't claim relief for taxes due on:

  • Household employment taxes
  • Individual shared responsibility payments
  • Business taxes
  • Trust fund recovery penalties for employment taxes

You generally can't get equitable relief for taxes on your own income and assets, with these exceptions:

  • You're only responsible for the item because of community property laws
  • Your spouse used funds set aside for taxes for their own benefit without your knowledge
  • You were the victim of spouse abuse before signing the return
  • You didn't question the items on the return because of fear of retaliation
  • Your spouse's fraud led to the unpaid or understated tax

You May Be Eligible

You may be eligible for equitable relief if:

  • You aren't eligible for innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief
  • You filed a joint return with your spouse
  • You and your spouse didn't transfer assets to commit fraud or avoid taxes
  • You didn't knowingly file a fraudulent return
  • Based on all the facts and circumstances, it would be unfair to hold you liable for the unpaid or understated tax

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

You are not eligible for relief in any year when:

  • You signed an offer in compromise with the IRS
  • You signed a closing agreement with the IRS covering the same taxes
  • A court made a final decision denying you relief
  • You participated in a related court proceeding and didn't ask for relief

What to Do If You Receive a Notice

If you receive a notice that you owe tax on a joint return, follow the instructions in your letter promptly. You may also learn that you owe additional taxes because of an audit.

Request spouse relief as soon as you learn of the taxes due. See how to request spouse relief.

Factors That Determine Fairness

We consider all factors to determine if you're liable for unpaid or underreported tax. Examples include:

  • Your marital status
  • Economic hardship you might suffer without relief
  • Whether you knew or had reason to know about your spouse's understated or unpaid tax
  • Whether you're legally obligated to pay the tax
  • Whether you significantly benefited from not paying tax or underreporting your tax
  • Whether you complied in good faith with tax laws after requested
  • Your mental and physical health

Knowledge or Reason to Know

You can't claim equitable relief for unpaid or unreported taxes if:

  • You knew your spouse (or former spouse) wouldn't pay your joint tax liability
  • You knew or had reason to know of your spouse's item that caused a tax understatement

We consider these factors to determine if you had a reason to know:

  • Your education level
  • Your spouse's deceit or evasiveness
  • Your involvement in the activity leading to taxes due
  • Your involvement in business and household financial matters
  • Your business or financial expertise
  • Changes in your spending habits

When to Request Relief

The date you must request relief depends on whether you're requesting a refund, relief from a balance due or relief from taxes on community income.

Relief From a Balance Due

You can request relief for as long as the IRS has to collect the tax, generally 10 years from the date we notified you. This 10-year period may be suspended. See The IRS Collection Process, Publication 594 PDF.

Tax Credit or Refund

You must request a refund or credit within 3 years after you filed your tax return or 2 years after you paid the tax, whichever is later.

Relief From Taxes Due on Community Income

You must request relief no later than 6 months before the end of the assessment period against your spouse for that tax year, including extensions. The assessment period is generally 3 years.

Exception: If we audit your return during the 6-month relief request period, you must request relief within 30 days of receiving our initial contact letter.

How to Request Relief

To request relief, file Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief.

Form 8857 covers innocent spouse relief, equitable relief and separation of liability. You don't have to try to figure out which type of relief best fits your situation. We will consider all of your information and apply the type of relief, if any, that you may be eligible for.

After You Request Relief

We'll review your request and contact your spouse or former spouse to ask if they want to participate in the process.

We may take up to 6 months or longer to review your request. While you wait, continue to file and pay your taxes as usual. When our review is complete, we'll send a letter of determination with our decision.

Appeal a Spouse Relief Decision

Generally, both spouses have the right to appeal a spouse relief decision. You must appeal within 30 days from the date on your determination letter.

Find more on how to appeal a spouse relief decision.