Marital status is decided based on a person’s marital status on December 31. If a couple is married on December 31 of the tax year; that couple may file a joint return for the year, regardless of when in the year they got married. Consequently, you can file Married Filing Jointly if you and your spouse meet any one of the following tests:
• You are married and living together as husband and wife, on the last day of the tax year.
• You are married on the last day of the tax year and living apart, but are not legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance.
• Your spouse died during the year and you did not remarry during the year.
• You are living together in a common law union that is recognized by the state where you live, or in the state where the common law union began.
In order to file a joint return, both spouses are required to:
• Include all their income, exemptions, and deductions on the joint return, and
• Use the same accounting period.
The MFJ filing status generally has the lowest rate of tax, and is the more favorable filing status for married couples.
If your spouse died during the tax year, and you remarried during the year, you may file MFJ with your new spouse. You deceased spouse’s filing status, however, would have to be Married Filing Separately.
Note however, that a married couple is not required to file jointly; this is a matter of choice; they can file separate returns if they wish.
Note also, that to file MFJ, both spouses do not need to have income to file jointly, however, both spouses are responsible for the joint return, and both must sign the return.
Nonresident and Dual-Status Aliens
Generally, a joint return cannot be filed if either spouse was a nonresident alien at any time during the year. However, if at the end of the year one spouse was a nonresident alien or dual-status alien married to a U.S. citizen or resident, both spouses may choose to file a joint return. In this case, both spouses will be taxed as U.S. citizens and residents for the entire year, and the nonresident spouse must report all income (both domestic and foreign).
If one spouse obtains a court decree of annulment (which holds that no valid marriage ever existed), both spouses must file amended returns claiming a filing status of Single or Head of Household, whichever applies, for all prior tax years affected by the annulment that are not closed by the statute of limitations.
In the case of divorce, both spouses may be held jointly and individually responsible for any tax, interest, and penalties due on a joint return before the divorce. This responsibility applies even if the divorce decree states that only one spouse will be responsible for any amounts due on previously filed joint returns.
The primary objective of this article is to empower taxpayers to learn to do their own taxes. For information on how to choose the correct filing status, grab yourself a copy of “Doing Your Own Taxes is as Easy as 1, 2, 3,” ($6.98) on TaxConnections.com.