Marriage is all about sharing — your lives, your home, the kids, the dog. But do you also share your past debt? If you file taxes jointly, the answer is yes. Debt owed by one spouse for back taxes, back child support or even defaulted student loans will likely impact any potential tax refund owed to the other.
But there are cases in which one spouse can get relief from a partner's bills. One way is to apply for injured spouse relief through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). "Injured spouse" is a loaded term, but it has nothing to do with abuse or physical injury. It's more about separating what you owe from what your husband or wife owes. If you're found to be an injured spouse, the IRS will give you a refund based on your income and taxes due, despite your joint filer's debt.
Injured spouse is different from another type of tax relief, known as innocent spouse relief. An innocent spouse is typically a member of a couple that is separated or divorcing and who claims to have been misinformed about, or even deceived by, what the other spouse was doing. Filing for innocent spouse relief can absolve someone of his or her partner's mistakes.
You might be happy to lend a tax refund to a partner in need, or you might prefer to use your refund to reduce debt of your own. Either way, it helps to understand your options.