In the Genesis account of the Fall, when the Lord asked Adam if he had sinned by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam immediately pointed the finger at his wife, Eve, as the cause of his disobedience: “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Gen. 3:12. The Lord then confronted Eve, who immediately pointed the finger at the serpent: “And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” Gen. 3:13. The serpent had no fingers, so he couldn’t point the finger at anyone. What does this have to do with tax law? Aside from the droll assertion of many that the IRS is actually the Infernal Revenue Service that is run by Old Scratch, himself, and Will Rogers witticism on the resulting corruption of the population, “The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has,” it illustrates the tendency of spouses to sometimes blame each other for their malefactions.
However, while Adam was wrong when he blamed his wife for his own crime, sometimes a spouse can legitimately aver genuine innocence regarding income tax liability. Such a defense is unsurprisingly called the “Innocent Spouse Relief.”
What is involved in successfully claiming innocent spouse relief?
1. Joint And Several Liability When Filing A Joint Return
When a married couple files a joint income tax return, the spouses are jointly and severally liable for any tax debt for the given tax year. What does this mean?
They are jointly liable as a marital unit ― probably not a surprise to you ― meaning that the IRS can go after them as a couple.
And they are severally liable, meaning that each one is on the hook for the entire tax debt. This means that while the IRS cannot collect more than the total amount owed, it can go after one spouse for the entire amount and leave the other spouse alone. As the IRS has stated:
Thus, both spouses on a married filing jointly return are generally held responsible for all the tax due even if one spouse earned all the income or claimed improper deductions or credits. This is also true even if a divorce decree states that a former spouse will be responsible for any amounts due on previously filed joint returns.
However, under the innocent spouse relief, one spouse can be relieved of joint and several liability.
There are three separate forms of relief available, though technically only one is called innocent spouse relief. The other two are: “Separation Of Liability Relief” and “Equitable Relief.”
Continue Reading Dealing With Tax Debts – The Innocent Spouse (And Other) Relief