Married taxpayers generally have the option to file a joint tax return or separate returns, a filing status commonly referred to as married filing separate (MFS). If you are married and you and your spouse are filing separate returns, or are considering doing so, you should read this article before making that decision. Depending on whether the taxpayers are residents of a separate or community property state, their separate returns may include just the income and eligible expenses of each filer or a percentage of their combined income and expenses.
Couples choose the MFS option for a variety of reasons:
- They want to avoid the joint and several liability for the tax from a joint tax return. Joint and several liability is a legal term for a responsibility that is shared by two or more parties to a lawsuit. A wronged party may sue any or all of them, and collect the total damages awarded by a court from any or all of them.
- They have children from a prior marriage and want to keep finances separate.
- They only want to keep their taxes separate.
- The marriage is tenuous.
- The taxpayers are separated and don’t want to cooperate in filing a joint return.
- One spouse might get a larger refund by filing separately (the other will pay more).
- They think they can save money by filing separate returns, and a variety of other reasons.
The fact of the matter is that tax laws are carefully written to keep married taxpayers from filing separately to manipulate the tax laws to their benefit.