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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Married Filing Jointly

Term Definition Married Filing Jointly - a tax filing status for married people that creates joint and several liability.
Application in Divorce Married couples who file jointly pay much lower taxes than married couples filing separately, and most married couples file jointly for this reason.

Filing jointly creates joint and several liability. Joint and several tax liability means that the government may look to either party and his or her assets to satisfy what it says is owed by either spouse or ex-spouse. Put another way, both spouses are equally, jointly and individually liable for taxes, and if the I.R.S. cannot get one, it goes after the other, and sometimes both at the same time.

Thus, long after a couple have divide the goods and go separate ways, the I.R.S. (or any other taxing agency) can pursue either of them to collect what is due. In the extreme, if the I.R.S. determines fraud in a joint return, there is no statute of limitations on the prosecution of tax deficiencies and the recovery of taxes.

Despite the emancipation of women, very often a husband handles the finances, and a wife signs what a husband tells her to sign, particularly during the happy times in a marriage. Thus a women may sign a return that underreports income and overstates deductions without even giving it much thought. Under the Innocent Spouse Rule, women now have some protection from good faith errors caused by the action of a less than honest spouse, but a wife sailing rough marital seas should think twice about a joint tax return.

Few government agencies have an arm as long as the I.R.S. Its claims supersede any marital separation agreements dividing property.

Joint and several liability can make for long-lasting problems in a divorce when one of the spouses filed a fraudulent, dishonest or even inaccurate return and the other spouse, acting in ignorance but good faith, signs on to it.

See also Joint and Several Liability; Innocent Spouse Rule.

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