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Should I File a Joint Tax Return During My Divorce?

Should I File a Joint Tax Return During My Divorce?

Just because it is necessary to separate two people’s lives does not mean it will be easy. Divorcing spouses usually must find new living arrangements, divide up household goods and friends, and even face the daunting prospect of filing many legal documents to get the divorce over and done. Let’s not forget tax returns. Couples in the middle of a divorce still have to face the tax man and may be left wondering if they should file a joint tax return or separate.

Married Status and Tax Returns

You may file your federal tax returns choosing one of the following options:

  • Single,
  • Married Filing Jointly,
  • Married Filing Separately,
  • Head of Household, and
  • Qualifying Widow/Widower with Dependent Child.

The first and last status obviously do not apply, since your marriage has not been terminated yet and you aren’t a widow/widower. However, the other available options can be confusing.

Filing Taxes Mid-Divorce

You and your spouse may file married filing jointly as long as you were still legally married on December 31. Even if you live in different houses, you are still considered to be married until the court dissolves your marriage

If you and your spouse lived apart for at least half of the tax year and you cared for at least one child for half the year, you may file as head of household. This usually results in a lower tax rate.

If you’re still married and your spouse will not agree to file jointly, you will have to file as married filing separately. Usually, the tax rate is higher for someone filing like this. Even worse, you may have to claim at least part of your spouse’s income since California is a community property state.

Talk to An Advisor Before Filing Your Taxes

To file jointly, your spouse must agree to do so. However, you may choose to file separately because you are concerned that your spouse is trying to cheat on their taxes. Also, sometimes one spouse may receive a refund if filing separately but face a tax bill if filing jointly.

Ms. Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. Please call us at (415) 293-8314 to schedule a confidential appointment with one of our attorneys. We assist clients in California’s Northern to Central Coast, including San Francisco, Gold River, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.