Tax Blog

January 17, 2011
Filing Status Changes Due to Marriage, Divorce or Death of a Spouse

Before you can even start to figure out your Federal income taxes, you must decide what your filing status will be: married or unmarried, determined as of December 31st, the last day of the tax year.

Married or Unmarried?
You have a filing status of married for the entire tax year if:
- You live together as husband and wife, and are legally married on December 31st.
- You live together as husband and wife due to a common law marriage recognized by state law.
- You were legally married to your spouse, but, as of December 31st, the two of you are living apart, and neither of you have taken any legal action to separate.
- You and your spouse have separated under the rule of an interlocutory decree of divorce.
- Your spouse died during the tax year.

You have a filing status of unmarried for the entire tax year if:
- You and your spouse have legally separated.
- You and your spouse have legally divorced.
- Your final divorce decree was processed by December 31st.
- You have obtained a court decree of annulment, even if you both had filed as married in years previous.

Filing Options
Once you've determined your filing status, then you can decide your option for filing Federal income tax.

1. Single.
You can pick this option only if you are unmarried, divorced, or legally separated, on December 31st of the tax year.

2. Married Filing Jointly
You can pick this option if you are married on December 31st, and both you and your spouse agree to file a joint return. It does not matter if one of the people in the marriage has no income or no deductions, or died during the year (but only if you did not re-marry).

3. Married Filing Separately
You can pick this option if you are married and each spouse want to file separate tax returns because of a tax benefit. However, there are special rules to follow.

4. Head of Household
You can pick this option if:
- You are unmarried on December 31st of the tax year.
- You paid more than half of the upkeep of your home where you live for the entire tax year.
- You had a qualifying relative living with you for more than half of the tax year. A dependent parent does not have to live with you in order for you to qualify.

5. Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Child
This option lets you use joint tax rules, even though, technically speaking, you are unmarried. You can pick this option if:
- Your spouse died within the two tax years previous to the current one.
- You have a dependent child (but not a foster child) who lived in your home the entire year except for temporary absences.
- You and your spouse qualified to file a joint return in the tax year your spouse died.
- You have not remarried after your spouse's death.
- You paid more than half the cost of upkeep for the home during the tax year.

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