Are You Liable for an Ex-Spouse's Unpaid Taxes?

If you have gotten a divorce and are in the process of rebuilding your financial and emotional life, dealing with your ex spouse’s unpaid taxes is probably the last thing on your mind.  However, the Internal Revenue Service holds both taxpayers equally responsible for unpaid tax debt when the income tax return in question was filed as married filing together.  So, if your ex has unpaid tax debt from a return that was filed jointly, you will need to deal with it because it is as much your debt as it is theirs.  Fortunately, there is a method to deal with the tax debt through the IRS’s Innocent Spouse Relief Program.

Understanding The Innocent Spouse Program

The Innocent Spouse program basically allows you to claim that you are not responsible for the tax debt of your former spouse in a number of circumstances.  There are several requirements that you must meet in order to qualify for Innocent Spouse Relief under the IRS. 

  • The first is that you must not be legally obligated to pay the tax debt that you are attempting to claim Innocent Spouse Relief from.  Essentially, you cannot claim innocent spouse relief in order to get out of paying your own portion of the tax debt and leaving your ex spouse footing the entire bill. 
  • Another requirement for receiving Innocent Spouse relief is that you must have reported any and all legally reportable income on the joint return that you filed with your former spouse.  If you did not report your income in the joint return, or if a portion of it was excluded because you did not want to report it in an attempt to lower your tax liability, you will not be able to claim Innocent Spouse Relief, and you may be guilty of committing tax evasion or filing a fraudulent return.
  • Finally, in order to apply for and receive Innocent Spouse relief under the IRS law, you must have made payments or at least reported payments, income, and claimed any tax credits on the joint tax return.  Again, these types of activities are all part of a normal tax filing, so if you filled out your tax forms honestly and completely, you should be able to meet the requirements for Innocent Spouse relief and gain some relief from the unpaid tax burden of your ex spouse. 

Getting Help

If you have specific questions about relief from having to pay your ex-spouse's unpaid tax debt, consult with an experience tax attorney. Your attorney can provide you with more specific details about dealing with the IRS and proving that you should not be responsible for the back taxes owed by your former spouse.

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