Innocent Spouse Relief

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When a married couple files a joint tax return, both taxpayers are jointly and severally liable for any taxes owed and any penalties or interest assessed. This is true even if the couple later divorces or if one spouse was the sole income earner. Section 6015 of the Internal Revenue Code provides a few avenues of relief for a spouse who is inequitably held responsible for the other spouse’s error: traditional innocent spouse relief in § 6015(b), separation of liability relief in § 6015(c), and equitable relief under § 6015(f).

Innocent Spouse Relief

Section 6015(b) is the original form of innocent spouse relief. The prerequisites for innocent spouse relief are:

Separation of Liability

Another way for a spouse to be relieved of liability for a spouse’s incorrect tax return is separation of liability relief under § 6015(c). If separation of liability relief is granted, any deficiency assessed is allocated between the two spouses, and the requesting spouse is only liable for the portion allocated to him or her.

The requirements to qualify are:

Certain things will disqualify the requesting spouse from receiving separation of liability:

Equitable Relief

If a taxpayer does not qualify for relief under § 6015(b) or (c), they may request equitable relief under § 6015(f). This form of relief applies to both understatement and underpayment of taxes. In Revenue Procedure 2013-34 and Publication 971, the IRS listed threshold requirements for equitable relief which, if met, led to a streamlined determination. The threshold requirements are:

If those threshold requirements are met, the IRS will grant relief if the requesting spouse:

If any of the threshold requirements or the streamlined factors are not satisfied, the requesting spouse may still be granted relief if, considering all facts and circumstances, it would be inequitable to hold the requesting spouse responsible. Factors to consider are:

Innocent spouse relief is a useful tool when it would be inequitable to hold a taxpayer liable for tax debts based on the income or actions of a spouse or former spouse. The IRS is especially likely to grant these forms of relief if the requesting taxpayer was abused by his or her spouse at the time of or before filing the tax return at issue. In cases where such abuse can be proven, the reduction in tax liability can be a huge weight lifted from the abused spouse; however, it may be difficult to convince the requesting spouse to recount the abuse he or she suffered. Therefore, it is important to gather as much evidence as possible to support each relevant consideration.


Representation in Tax Audits & Appeals

Need assistance in managing the audit process? Freeman Law’s team of attorneys and dual-credentialed attorney-CPAs regularly represents taxpayers before the IRS and Texas Comptroller. Our team also provides tax return-related representations and helps taxpayers navigate state tax laws. Our Firm offers value-driven services and provides practical solutions to complex issues. Schedule a consultation or call (214) 984-3000 to discuss our tax representation services.