February 3, 2017

Should I File as Head of Household for my Taxes if I am Getting a Divorce?

Written By

Raymond P. Dudlo
Member, Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC

Your tax filing status is dependent on your married status at the end of the tax year. If the tax year has ended and if you are in the process of obtaining a divorce but your marriage is not yet dissolved, you should consider filing as Married Filing Jointly.  If a divorce petition is filed, a spouse has moved out of the marital residence, or the parties  are otherwise living separate lives, these circumstances do not change one’s ability to file a joint return.

The key to determining whether an individual can file as Married Filing Jointly during the pendency of the divorce is the date of dissolution of the marriage. If a couple has not legally obtained their divorce by the end of the tax year, then they should be able to file as Married Filing Jointly. To file a joint return, a couple must be legally married on December 31 of the tax year. Therefore, the year in which a couple obtains their divorce is the same tax year which they no longer can file a joint return.

Of all the tax rate schedules for individuals and couples, Married Filing Jointly generally offers the best tax liability coverage. Of the five tax rate schedules for individuals and couples, the least favorable tax filing status to married persons is Married Filing Separately. Also, if a divorce is pending, there may be a provisional order in place which directs how the parties are to file taxes and what should happen to any return.  Therefore, if a person is in the process of obtaining a divorce but that divorce has not been finalized by the end of the tax year, you should consider filing a joint return. It is best to seek professional guidance in determining whether a joint return is in fact a benefit to you during a divorce.  A tax professional or an attorney can help you make this decision.

The Qualified Widower with Dependent Child is generally the best tax schedule for individuals; however, this status is not available to persons who are currently married.


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