Can the IRS Come After a Spouse for Unpaid Taxes?

Navigating Tax Liabilities in Marriage

Marriage is a union that intertwines not only lives but also financial responsibilities. When it comes to taxes, understanding the potential implications for spouses is crucial. This article delves into the complexities of tax liability in marriage, specifically addressing the question of whether the IRS can pursue a spouse for unpaid taxes.

Joint Filing: Shared Responsibility

When a couple files their taxes jointly, they assume joint and several liability. This means that both spouses are individually and collectively responsible for any taxes, interest, and penalties owed on the joint tax return. Even if one spouse was unaware of any wrongdoing or errors made by the other spouse, they are still legally accountable for the shared tax debt.

Separate Filing: Individual Accountability

In contrast, if a couple files their taxes separately, each spouse is only responsible for their own tax debt. The IRS cannot hold one spouse liable for the tax debt of the other spouse if they filed separately.

Timing Matters: Premarital vs. Marital Debt

The timing of tax debt also plays a significant role in determining liability. If a spouse had tax debt before the marriage, only that spouse is responsible for the debt. The other spouse cannot be held liable for premarital tax debt, even if they file jointly.

However, if tax debt is incurred during the marriage, the rules of joint and several liability apply. Both spouses are responsible for the debt, regardless of which spouse earned the income or incurred the debt.

Relief Options for Innocent Spouses

In certain circumstances, innocent spouses may qualify for relief from tax liability. This includes situations where one spouse was unaware of the other spouse’s tax debt or where the other spouse fraudulently claimed deductions or credits. To qualify for innocent spouse relief, the spouse must meet specific criteria and file the appropriate IRS form.

Separation of Liability: Limited Relief

Separation of liability is another potential relief option. This applies in situations where a couple files jointly but later divorces or legally separates. Under separation of liability, the IRS divides tax liabilities between the spouses based on their respective shares of income, deductions, and credits.

Equitable Relief: Discretionary Relief

Equitable relief is a discretionary form of relief that the IRS may grant in cases where the other relief options are not available. This relief is typically granted when it would be unfair to hold one spouse responsible for the tax debt of the other spouse.

Understanding the potential tax liabilities in marriage is essential for couples. By carefully considering filing status, being aware of premarital and marital debt, and exploring relief options if necessary, couples can navigate the complexities of tax law and protect their financial well-being.

What if Your Spouse owes taxes to the IRS?


Can a wife be held responsible for husband’s tax debt?

Married Filing Jointly This means that if your spouse intentionally lied on a joint tax return, you could be held responsible for the resulting spouse’s tax liability, including tax debt, penalties, and interest.

Can IRS garnish spouse wages?

If your spouse owes back taxes, the IRS may garnish your wages to collect payment on their liability if you filed a joint tax return. If you filed individually, the IRS would not come after your wages for the balance due.

Can the IRS go after your spouse?

The IRS can take several actions against both you and your spouse, even if just one of you has unpaid taxes. These actions include: Garnishing Wages: The IRS can issue a wage garnishment or levy against both spouses if they are employed. This means a portion of their wages can be withheld to satisfy the tax debt.

What is the IRS innocent spouse rule?

Innocent spouse relief can relieve you from paying additional taxes if your spouse understated taxes due on your joint tax return and you didn’t know about the errors. Innocent spouse relief is only for taxes due on your spouse’s income from employment or self-employment.

Can the IRS take my spouse’s tax refund?

Generally, the IRS cannot take your tax refund for your spouse’s tax debts. If the IRS seizes your joint tax refund to cover a debt related solely to your spouse, you can request to get your portion of the refund back. This is called Injured Spouse Relief.

Can the IRS take money from my spouse for taxes?

The IRS can’t take money from your spouse for these taxes. If you have unpaid taxes and you want to protect your spouse, the best thing to do is make arrangements to take care of the tax debt.

How do I get a tax refund if my spouse is injured?

Request innocent spouse relief as soon as you learn of the taxes due. Injured spouse relief can help you reclaim your share of a federal tax refund that was applied to your spouse’s taxes or other debts. Find more about injured spouse relief.

Do I owe taxes if my spouse does not pay taxes?

The answer to this question will depend on whether the liability is a joint liability or separate liability and whether you live in a community property state or not. If the IRS liability is a JOINT liability then you and your spouse both owe the taxes even if you did not have your own income.

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