August 28, 2017

What is My Tax Filing Status if I am Getting a Divorce?

Written By

Raymond P. Dudlo
Member, Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) governs an individual’s tax filing status. To determine what status you can file for, you have to look at the entire tax year. As the 2014 tax year comes to an end, persons obtaining a divorce should consider filing as Married Filing Jointly. Although persons obtaining a divorce may have already filed their divorce action, moved out of the residence or otherwise are living separate lives does not change their 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.

Why would you want to file a joint tax return with your soon-to-be ex-spouse?  Of all of 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. 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. Two examples of when a joint return is likely not the most advantageous tax filing status is when the parties obtaining a divorce have a disparate income or if an asset of the marriage, which is titled only in one party’s name, generates a significant amount of income.

Ultimately, if you are going through the divorce process, you should consider which tax rate is best for you if your divorce is not yet finalized.


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