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What is Innocent Spouse Relief?

Tax matters can be complex and often present challenges for married couples who file joint tax returns. In certain situations, one spouse may find themselves unfairly penalized for the actions of their partner, leading to financial difficulties and strained relationships. To address this issue, the IRS offers a form of relief known as innocent spouse relief. This provision is designed to protect individuals who find themselves in an unjust tax situation due to the actions of their spouse. 

What is Innocent Spouse Relief? 

Innocent spouse relief is a provision within the U.S. tax code that allows a spouse to be relieved of responsibility for tax, interest, and penalties on a joint tax return. This is available if a taxpayer’s partner improperly reported income, claimed improper deductions, or committed other tax-related transgressions. This relief aims to protect individuals who had no knowledge of their spouse’s actions. It also includes those who were victims of deceitful financial behavior. 

Eligibility Criteria 

To qualify for innocent spouse relief, the requesting spouse must meet certain criteria outlined by the IRS. The following conditions are generally considered when evaluating eligibility: 

  • Joint Return Requirement: The innocent spouse must have filed a joint tax return with the spouse. 
  • Errors or Omissions: The innocent spouse must establish that the tax liability resulted from errors or omissions made by their spouse without their knowledge. 
  • Knowledge or Lack of Knowledge: The innocent spouse must demonstrate that, at the time of signing the joint return, they didn’t know about the understatement of tax. 
  • Unfair Hardship: Holding the innocent spouse responsible for the tax debt must be deemed unfair. The innocent spouse must show that they would suffer significant hardship if forced to pay the tax. 
  • Time Requirement: Taxpayers generally have 2 years to request innocent spouse relief. The clock starts when the IRS begins trying to collect from you. However, there are some exceptions.  

Types of Innocent Spouse Relief 

There are three types of innocent spouse relief provided by the IRS: 

  1. Traditional Innocent Spouse Relief: This relief is applicable when a spouse can prove that they had no knowledge of the erroneous items on the joint return. 
  1. Separation of Liability Relief: This relief allocates the understatement of tax between the innocent and guilty spouses. This allows the innocent spouse to be responsible only for their share. To qualify, you must be divorced, legally separated or widowed. You also could not have lived with your ex-spouse for the 12 months prior to your relief request. 
  1. Equitable Relief: If a spouse doesn’t qualify for traditional relief or separation of liability but would still suffer undue hardship, equitable relief may be granted at the discretion of the IRS. This is more common if you live in a community property state, where income and debt are shared among spouses. 

How to Apply for Innocent Spouse Relief 

To apply for innocent spouse relief, the innocent spouse must file Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief. This form requires detailed information about the joint tax return, the issues leading to the request, and supporting documentation. There are a few key things to keep in mind when requesting innocent spouse relief. 

The IRS is required by law to notify your spouse or ex-spouse of your application for spouse relief. Your spouse or ex-spouse will have the opportunity to provide their own side of the story. The IRS will then collect any taxes, interest, and penalties from your spouse or ex-spouse. The IRS will refund any eligible payments you made toward the tax bill if they find you innocent. Keep in mind, however, that some taxes, interest, and penalties will not qualify for innocent spouse relief. If this occurs, both you and your spouse will be responsible for paying the balance.  

Tax Help for Innocent Spouses 

Innocent spouse relief is a crucial provision that provides a lifeline to individuals who find themselves unfairly burdened with tax liabilities resulting from their spouse’s actions. Navigating the complexities of tax law can be challenging, and seeking professional advice is recommended for those considering innocent spouse relief. This provision not only offers financial relief but also helps to rectify injustices within the tax system, promoting fairness and equity for innocent spouses. Optima Tax Relief is the nation’s leading tax resolution firm with over $1 billion in resolved tax liabilities.  

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