What Is the Innocent Spouse Rule?


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Taxes are complicated at the best of times. Divorce, however, can make your taxes that much more complicated. During the divorce process, if your spouse files joint taxes unbeknownst to you – or files them erroneously – you could experience a serious financial hit through no fault of your own. It is confusing, but better understanding the issue can leave you better prepared to cope.

Texas is a Community Property State

Because Texas is a community property state, any assets or debts you acquire during the course of your marriage amount to community property that will be divided in a manner that is deemed just and right – or fair – upon divorce. This naturally includes any tax expenses you owe – even if those expenses were incurred during the pendency of your divorce. Further, even if your divorce decree specifically alleviates you of any tax burden on the tax return in question, the IRS is not bound by state decrees. Instead, the IRS is a federal agency that pursues the taxes and penalties it is owed in earnest.

Consider an Example

Considering a concrete example can help you better understand what may be at stake. If your spouse files joint taxes while going through the divorce process and those taxes are in error – either as a result of making a mistake or as a result of tax fraud – the IRS charges associated with this error will be in both of your names, and you will both be responsible for covering them. Such errors (or fraud) can come in myriad forms, but the basics generally involve one or more of the following:

  • Your spouse underreported earnings.
  • Your spouse claimed deductions that do not apply.
  • Your spouse claimed credits, gifts, and/or distributions of income that are erroneous.

Once the IRS discovers the error, which can take a considerable amount of time and can allow your divorcing spouse to cash in on any initial refund in the process, you and your spouse (who may be your ex-spouse by this time) will both be financially responsible for paying the tax shortage and all attendant fines.

The Innocent Spouse Rule

Once you receive the dreaded IRS notice of underpayment, it is only natural to go into panic mode. It is important to understand, however, that you may have legal recourse in the form of the innocent spouse rule. This federal rule allows that a spouse who was unaware of – or innocent of – a tax error or tax fraud (perpetrated by his or her then-spouse on a joint return) that led to a current tax liability, may be completely relieved of the financial obligations they face by the IRS.

Discuss Your Divorce Concerns with an Experienced Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a dedicated family law attorney who is committed to skillfully fighting for your rights and to protect your assets. We are on your side, so please do not hesitate to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information today.


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