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Can Your Ex-Spouse’s Tax Debt Affect You?

You have finally signed the divorce papers and you are free of your ex-spouse. Then, you find out that they owe back taxes to the IRS for a time period when you were still married. Now, you have to worry about having to pay the IRS money or lose your house, giving you one more reason to feel anger towards your ex. But, do you really have to worry about your ex-spouse’s tax debt impacting you? The answer: it depends.

Did You File a Joint Tax Return for the Years in Question?

The first question you have to ask yourself is whether you and your spouse filed joint returns during the year or years for which your spouse owes back taxes. If the answer is no, you filed separately, then you are free and clear in almost all situations.

If the answer is yes, then you are technically liable for the tax debt. Even if the majority of the income on which the back taxes are owed comes from earnings from your ex, if he or she does not pay, you could be vulnerable to collective action. Even if your divorce papers clearly state that your ex is liable for the tax payments, the IRS still has the power to come after you to collect the funds. The legal statement in your divorce papers only binds your ex-spouse to the payments; it does not affect the IRS or its actions.

Were You Aware of the Improper Filling of the Tax Return?

In most situations where a spouse’s tax debt might affect an ex-spouse, the tax return was filed but there was some mistake with the income or deductions, leading to unpaid taxes. This often arises after an audit, although the IRS might identify a miscalculation another way. If you had no knowledge of any problems on the tax return, including improper income reporting or tax credit or exemption claims, then you might be eligible for Innocent Spouse Relief.

This tax relief program has strict criteria. You must prove that you had no way to know about the problem and that no reasonable person would. You also have to demonstrate that it would be unfair for the IRS to hold you accountable for any portion of the tax debt. Although this can help relieve you of taxes that arise from misreporting, if there is any part of the tax debt that does not come from this improper reporting, you could still be liable to pay that portion of the tax. A similar tax relief option is known as Separate Liability Relief, which applies to those who are legally separated or divorced and have not lived together for at least 12 months.

Where There Circumstances Beyond Your Control?

There is another option for spouse relief for joint tax debt known as equitable relief. This allows you to get out of any liability for any portion of the tax debt, not just any errors on the tax return. However, you must demonstrate that there are circumstances that make it unfair for you to have to pay the tax debt. These circumstances generally include things outside of your control or that demonstrate you were a victim, such as:

  • Physical, emotional, or mental abuse
  • Physical or mental health problems at the time you signed the tax returns
  • Paying the taxes would lead to severe financial hardship

Did You Expect a Refund?

If you filed a joint tax return and expected a refund but part or all of it was applied to your ex-spouse’s previous tax debt, then you could apply for Injured Spouse Relief to get all or part of your refund returned to you. To qualify for this, you have to have paid your federal taxes and have no legal obligation to the outstanding tax debt in question.

Unfortunately, you are liable for any tax debt incurred when you joint-filed a return with your ex-spouse. However, if you can prove that there were circumstances outside your control or it was reasonable for you to not be aware of the incorrect filing, then you do have options for tax relief.

Filling out the paperwork and proving your innocence can be difficult. Working with a tax relief specialist like those at Fidelity Tax Relief can help you through the process. Call us today at 877-372-2520 to see if Innocent Spouse Relief or one of the other tax relief programs provides a solution to your problem.

Time is running out!​

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