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Posted by Tiffany Gaskin

Innocent Spouse Relief: Who Is Eligible and How to Get It From the IRS

Innocent Spouse Relief: Who Is Eligible and How to Get It From the IRS

On joint tax returns, both taxpayers are generally responsible for the tax bill. But innocent spouse relief is one way to avoid paying the additional taxes you may owe to the IRS if your spouse or partner makes serious mistakes on the joint tax return.

What is an innocent spouse relief?

The innocent spouse relief is an IRS procedure that allows people to avoid paying additional taxes, interest, and fines if a spouse or ex-spouse has not reported income, reported incorrect income, or claimed improper deductions or tax credits. The innocent tax relief is not the same as that of the injured spouse relief.

What qualifies for innocent spouse relief?

Getting help for an innocent spouse is not automatic. The Internal Revenue Service can deny your request, and the process can take up to six months. Here are five important rules to remember to be able to qualify for the innocent spouse relief.

  • Circumstances matter: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) considers fairness in determining whether to grant assistance to an innocent spouse. It considers everything from whether you benefited from a tax error to your marital status and even if your spouse abandoned you.

  • Taxes must be filed together: The innocent spouse relief is for people who have filed a joint tax return (the married filing jointly tax status).

  • The error must be attributable to the other person: This means that if your tax return income is missing, it should be income received from your spouse and not from you.

  • You have to look at the calendar: Typically, you should apply for an innocent spouse's exemption no later than two years after the IRS starts trying to collect taxes from you (there are some exceptions).

  • You have to prove your innocence: Be able to prove that you didn't know or had no reason to know that you were underestimating your tax debt when you signed your tax return. Here, the IRS analyzes everything from the nature of the error to your financial situation, your educational experience, your involvement in the activity that created the problem, whether the problem is part of a pattern, and other factors.

How does the innocent spouse relief work?

If you think you might benefit from the innocent spouse relief, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Certain taxes, such as individual joint liability payments and certain payroll taxes, are not eligible for the innocent spouse exemption.

  • If some of the taxes, interest, and fines do not qualify for an innocent spouse relief, you are both responsible for that part of the bill.

  • If you have already paid some or your entire tax bill, the IRS will only reimburse you for the tax payments you made with your money.

  • The Internal Revenue is required to tell your spouse that you asked for an innocent spouse relief. It will also permit your spouse to provide information about your claim. 

  • The IRS will collect taxes, interest, and fines from your spouse or ex-spouse.

How can I file an innocent spouse relief request with the IRS?

To request an innocent spouse exemption, complete IRS Form 8857 (If you wish, you can waive the seven-page form and submit a signed written statement with the same information.) The IRS will determine the fees you owe.

What is the difference between innocent spouse relief and injured spouse relief?

Innocent Spouse relief primarily assigns liability for a tax bill. The Injured Spouse's relief allows the injured spouse to recover their share of the tax refund from a joint tax return.

The IRS might grant relief to the injured spouse if all or part of a tax refund on a joint tax return was (or will apply) to taxes the spouse owes for separate federal or state taxes, child or spousal support, or student loan debt.

Other options

If you do not qualify for an innocent spouse relief, you may have two other options.

Separation of liability relief: The IRS shares the tax bill between you and your ex, each paying their taxes. You must be divorced, legally separated, or widowed to qualify, and you must not have lived with that person for the 12 months before your application.

Equitable Relief: This may be an option if you haven't filed a joint return but are depending on your spouse's mistake because you live in a community-owned state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New -Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin), where the income is considered shared. You can also get this exemption if your tax return is correct, but the tax has not been paid.



Tiffany Gaskin
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