One of the financial perks of getting married is filing a joint tax return, which often means tax breaks. Filing as a couple allows you to claim several more deductions and tax credits than if you were filing alone, so it's generally the right financial choice.
However, there is a drawback: Your finances and your spouse's finances become one and the same — for tax purposes, anyway. That means you both become responsible for the income taxes you owe, and the IRS could still take what your spouse owes from your joint return, even if you are technically due a refund.
But the IRS offers two forms of relief for spouses who feel they've been taxed unfairly. The first is innocent spouse relief. Innocent spouse relief usually applies in cases of divorce or legal separation, but it can also be granted when one spouse seriously understates income on a joint tax return or files a fraudulent tax return without the knowledge of the other [source: IRS].
As an innocent spouse, it is possible to request separate tax liability with Form 8857, regardless of whether you filed jointly.
The second type, injured spouse relief, allows a husband or wife to keep his or her tax refund separate from the spouse who owes back taxes [source: IRS]. Injured spouse relief is usually granted in situations when one person has a debt to the IRS or has a refund that would be automatically applied to that existing debt.
If you are married to someone who owes back taxes, you can file a Form 8379, which allows you to retain your own refund even if you filed jointly. If the IRS accepts your claim as an injured spouse, you will have access to your own tax refund without having it go toward your spouse's debt.
- Assad, Anna. "How to File Taxes With a Spouse Who Owes Back Taxes Before You Were Married." (Oct. 30, 2014) http://budgeting.thenest.com/file-taxes-spouse-owes-back-taxes-before-were-married-22952.html
- Internal Revenue Service. "25.18.5 Injured Spouse." (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.irs.gov/irm/part25/irm_25-018-005.html
- Internal Revenue Service. "Introduction to Innocent Spouses." Oct. 15, 2014. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p971.pdf
- Legal Aid of West Virginia. "Does the IRS Claim You Owe Your Spouse's Tax Debt?" June 14, 2013. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.lawv.net/node/3433
- Phillips Erb, Kelly. "Ask the taxgirl: Getting Married When a Tax Liability Exists." Dec. 11, 2011. (Oct. 30, 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2011/12/11/ask-the-taxgirl-getting-married-when-a-tax-liability-exists/