Innocent Spouse Relief
Innocent Spouse Relief is an option available for tax payers who filed a joint tax return, and are seeking relief from joint and several liability. It is one of 3 options available to taxpayers looking for relief from joint and several liability (see also Separation of Liability Relief, Equitable Relief). The term joint and several liability is important in this context, because when you file a joint tax return you are held personally liable for any tax, debt, penalties, and interest associated with that tax return.
This remains true even if you later have a change in status such as; divorce, widowed, or legally separated. It is worth mentioning, that the IRS gives no distinction to who actually earned the income in question that was reported on the tax return.
Quick note: while researching Innocent Spouse Relief, you may come across the term Injured Spouse. Although very similar in name these two options are completely different and used for separate purposes. “Innocent Spouse” is for seeking the relief of taxes owed, and “Injured Spouse” is for the proper allocation of income, adjustments, deductions, and credits between a taxpayer and their spouse. For more information, please see Injured Spouse Allocation or IRS Form 8379.
How does Innocent Spouse Relief work?
Let’s say you and your spouse have unpaid taxes from 2 years ago. You recently filed for divorce, and you actually have a divorce decree stating that your now “former” spouse must pay all taxes due. Well, that does not necessarily mean you automatically qualify for relief from the taxes due to the IRS from the return in question!
Innocent Spouse Relief really applies to taxpayers who owe additional tax because a spouse or former spouse 1) failed to report income, or 2) incorrectly reported income, deductions, or credits. In this context, the IRS refers to these items as “erroneous items”, and they play a pivotal role in determining the approval of your request.
There are several conditions that the IRS requires you to meet in order to qualify for Innocent Spouse Relief. For a full explanation of the conditions and surrounding information, please see IRS publication 971.
Qualifications for Innocent Spouse Relief