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Can the IRS Collect My Spouse’s Tax Debt from Me?

Posted by Brandon Keim | Apr 21, 2021 | 0 Comments

If your family is facing a tax debt with the Internal Revenue Service, you may be wondering if the IRS can hold you responsible for a tax debt that your spouse incurred.

Joint and Several Liability

Many couples choose to file a joint tax return each year for the tax advantages. When you file as a couple, you are both “jointly and severally liable” for the tax as well as any fines or penalties incurred. “Joint and several liability” means that each spouse is liable for the full amount of the debt, even if your spouse earned all of the money or claimed improper deductions and credits on tax returns. The joint and several liability rule even applies if a divorce decree states that one spouse will be liable for any debt due on prior tax returns. Both spouses are still fully liable for the debt unless an exception applies.

Relief from Joint and Several Liability

There are typically three types of relief from joint and several liability. They include:

  1. Innocent Spouse Relief

You may be able to claim relief from additional taxes if your spouse or former spouse underreported income, failed to report income, or claimed improper deductions or credits. This relief is only available if:

  • Your spouse was solely responsible for the errors,
  • The income erroneously reported was your spouse's income, 
  • You didn't know about the understatement of the tax when you signed the return, and
  • Given the circumstances, it would be unfair to hold you responsible for the tax.

You need to request innocent spouse relief within two years after the IRS first attempts to collect the tax from you.

  1. Separation of Liability Relief

Separation of liability relief allocates the tax liability between you and your spouse that you are currently separated from or your former spouse if one of you didn't properly report something on a joint return. You are then only liable for the amount of tax allocated to you.

  1. Equitable Relief

Equitable relief can apply if you aren't eligible for innocent spouse or separation of liability relief, but the improper income reporting was generally your spouse's error. You might also qualify for this relief if your return reported your income correctly, but you and your spouse failed to pay the tax with the return.

If you're facing an unexpected tax obligation, you need experienced legal advice. Negotiating with the IRS can be challenging and frightening, but you don't have to go through this process alone. Call Senior Partner, Tax Controversy Attorney, and former IRS attorney Brandon A. Keim at (602) 200-7399 or contact him online to discuss your options.

About the Author

Brandon Keim

A Certified Tax Law Specialist, CPA, partner at Frazer Ryan Goldberg & Arnold LLP, and former Senior IRS Trial Attorney, Brandon Keim holds an LL.M. in Taxation from Georgetown University Law Center.


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