The IRS offers different tax breaks, deduction limits and exemptions for taxpayers in different life situations. It makes sense that a married couple should be able to claim twice the standard deduction as a single person, or that a widow with a child shouldn't have to pay a higher tax rate just because she's technically single. As a taxpayer, you need to choose a filing status that accurately reflects your life status as of Dec. 31 of the tax year [source: IRS]:
- Married filing jointly
- Married filing separately
- Head of household
- Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child
For newly married couples, tax season is a useful exercise in spousal communication. Both parties need to be on the same page. If the husband files his return under "married filing jointly," but the wife files her own return as "married filing separately," they will have plenty of time to talk it over on the drive to their audit. The same is true for a married couple that files separately with one spouse itemizing deductions and the other claiming the standard deduction [source: IRS]. That's another IRS no-no.
For the record, legally married same-sex couples can claim married status on their federal tax returns even if they are not living in a state that recognizes their union [source: IRS]. Also note that you can only claim head of household status if you are "considered unmarried" by the IRS and you have dependents [source: Schnepper].