Should I File a Joint Tax Return with My Separated Spouse?
Spouses who are separated, but not yet divorced, might wonder whether they should file a joint tax return. When spouses file their taxes together, each spouse can be held fully liable for the tax, as well as any interest or penalties that might accrue if the joint return is not accurate and complete. In other words, you could be forced to pay additional tax if your estranged spouse fails to report income, or takes tax deductions that are not allowed. Do not file jointly if you suspect your spouse may be dishonest about income or deductions.
On the other hand, joint taxpayers enjoy lower tax brackets. Filing together can save money, as compared to married filing separately (the highest tax bracket). Head of household filing status is a good option for those who qualify. Head of household is reserved for custodial parents who are divorced or live in separate households for the last six months of the year. In 2018, the filing status also dictates the standard deduction: $12,000 for single taxpayers and married filing separately; $18,000 for head of households; and $24,000 for married filing jointly.
Spouses who are separated or divorcing may wonder what tax filing options are available and may need guidance on whether to file a joint return, who gets to take deductions, and how to divide the tax liability or refund. An experienced family law attorney, and sometimes an accountant, can help spouses to develop an effective tax strategy during divorce. With good planning, couples who are separated can keep more money in the family’s pocket, which benefits everyone. Fill out our online contact form or call our the family law attorneys at (412) 471-9000 to discuss your individual situation and develop a strategy.
Brian C. Vertz is a partner in Pollock Begg with decades of experience in routine and complex child support, divorce and tax-related family law cases. Author of the legal reference book “Frumkes & Vertz on Divorce Taxation,” Brian is a sought-after speaker, course planner and the author of the 2017 Family Law Update for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. Brian is a fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers as well as the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.