Many spouses file a Married Filing Jointly federal income tax return in order take advantage of tax rates, deductions and other tax items. But Married Filing Jointly also imposes joint and several liability for the tax on the husband and wife, meaning that either spouse is fully liable for the joint tax debt, and the IRS can try to collect the entire amount from either spouse. While joint and several liability is fine for most spouses with harmonious relationships, it be becomes a problem when trouble arises.
However, there is a possible remedy to joint and several tax liability: one spouse may ask for relief under the IRS’s innocent spouse law found in IRC § 6015.
Equitable Relief for the Innocent Spouse. The IRS offers three different grounds for obtaining innocent spouse relief. For unpaid income tax, the only tax code section that may be used is IRC § 6015(f), for equitable relief. The two other grounds for innocent spouse relief are for tax understatements and deficiency assessments (see IRC 6015(b) and (c); Seeth, 991 F.3d at 1205), which occur when the tax return filed by the taxpayers does not set forth all the tax that should be owed and the IRS makes an adjustment to assess more taxes. that is understated in the tax return and for which the IRS determines that additional amounts are owing. Under equitable relief, the “innocent spouse” may be relieved from payment of the unpaid taxes.
Equitable Factors Reviewed by the IRS. To determine if equitable relief is appropriate, the IRS reviews seven factors:
(1) the requesting spouse is no longer married to the non-requesting spouse; (2) the requesting spouse would suffer economic hardship without relief; (3) the requesting spouse knew or had reason to know of the underpayment; (4) either spouse has a legal obligation to pay the tax liability; (5) the requesting spouse “significantly benefited” from the underpayment; (6) the requesting spouse has made a “good faith effort” to comply with income tax laws since; and (7) the requesting spouse was in poor physical or mental health. Rev. Proc. 2013-34 § 4.03(2), 2013-43 I.R.B. 397, 400–03.
In the next article, we will review several of these factors and the level of proof that the innocent spouse must show in order to obtain innocent spouse relief from the IRS.
Taxpayers who have Married Filing Jointly tax returns and believe that they should not be responsible for the tax troubles caused by a spouse may contact Jared Le Fevre to determine if they qualify for innocent spouse relief.
About the Author. Jared M. Le Fevre is a tax attorney and received a Tax LLM degree from the University of Alabama College of Law and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah College of Law. Mr. Le Fevre is a Partner in the Tax, Trusts and Estates Practice Group of Crowley Fleck PLLP. Mr. Le Fevre represents taxpayers before the IRS, IRS Independent Office of Appeals, Tax Court, Federal District Court and state tax agencies throughout Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Idaho, and Utah. Mr. Le Fevre is involved in federal, state and local tax audits, appeals, and tax resolution throughout these western states. Mr. Le Fevre also advises clients on the tax effects of business and real estate transactions.
Date of information: January 25, 2023.
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 Id. and Seeth, v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 991 F.3d 1201 (11th Cir. Mar. 19, 2021).
 IRC § 6015(b) applies to an understatement of tax and (c) applies to election of individual liability for divorced or separate taxpayers.