If you file jointly and your spouse has a debt (this can be a federal, state income tax, child support, or spousal support debt) the IRS can apply your refund to one of these debts, which is known as an “offset.” The agency can also take a collection action against you for the tax debt you and your spouse owe, such as filing of the Notice of Federal Tax Lien or issuing a levy. However, if you’re not legally responsible for the past due amount you may still be entitled to receive your share of the refund or request relief from joint and several liability, depending on the facts of the situation. “Joint and several liability” means that each taxpayer is legally responsible for the entire debt, even if you’ve divorced after you filed a joint tax return.
If you feel you are not responsible for the debt, there are two ways to request relief:
Note: Household Employment taxes, Individual Shared Responsibility payments, business taxes and trust fund recovery penalty for employment taxes are not eligible for innocent spouse relief.
The three types of innocent spouse relief available are:
Each type of relief has different requirements. Three Types of Relief at a Glance compares the rules for these three types of relief. You may also want to refer to Innocent Spouse Questions & Answers for more information about these types of relief.
If you file an Innocent Spouse claim, but the IRS denies your claim and you still disagree, see Appeal an Innocent Spouse Determination for next steps to take.
In either of the above situations, if you have taken the required steps and filed the proper claim information timely, but you are still unable to resolve the issue, see if you qualify for help from the Taxpayer Advocate Service.
More Resources and Information: