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Published:   |   Last Updated: December 20, 2023

Innocent Spouse 

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The IRS may send a number of different collection notices such as the Letter 11 or Letter 1058 in its attempt to collect a tax liability.  Once you start the Innocent Spouse process, you may see one or more of the following letters:

  • Letter 3284-C, Non-Requesting Spouse Initial Contact 
  • Letter 3657-C, No Consideration Innocent Spouse 
  • Letter 3658-C, Unprocessable Innocent Spouse Relief Request 
  • Letter 3659-C, Requesting Spouse Initial Contact 
  • Letter 3662-C, Requesting Spouse Initial Contact Letter 
  • Letter 3665-C, Nonrequesting Spouse Initial Contact Letter 

What is Innocent Spouse Relief (ISR)?

When a married couple files a joint return, each spouse can be held liable for any balance owing on the return filed.  This means if there is a balance due on the joint return the IRS can take collect action on BOTH spouses since this is joint liability.  If the joint return is later audited or there were errors made on it which then increased the tax liability, BOTH spouses are responsible for paying the taxes and the IRS can collect from either spouse to satisfy the tax debt. This is referred to as joint and several liability.  

ISR is a taxpayer initiated process and can be used to reduce a spouses liability on joint tax years. Most often it is helpful when one spouse believes (taking into account all the facts and circumstances) they should not be responsible for all/part of the balances owing on their joint liability.  This can be a helpful process when the tax owing is attributable to one spouse over another. It also helpful to use this process when divorce decrees allocate tax liabilities between former spouses. To request relief, the taxpayer must file Form 8857,Request for Innocent Spouse Relief. 

This notice or letter may include additional topics that have not yet been covered here. Please check back frequently for updates.

What does this mean to me?

When you file jointly with your spouse, you are both responsible for the tax and any interest or penalty due.  This is true even if you later divorce, your divorce decree states that your spouse is responsible for the taxes or your spouse earned all of the income reported on your joint return.   

Remember, BOTH spouses are liable for unpaid taxes on a JOINT return.  If there is unpaid tax when you file a joint return or your joint return was later audited resulting in additional tax due the IRS will attempt to collect the outstanding taxes from you and your spouse/former spouse. 

How did I get here?

When can I request Innocent Spouse relief?

  • The IRS sends you a notice of a tax liability you don’t believe you should be responsible for;, or 
  • The IRS is examining your tax return and proposing to increase your tax liability and you don’t believe you should be held responsible because the additional tax is due to your spouse/former spouse;, or 
  • The IRS offset a refund you were expecting on a separately filed return to the joint liability; or 
  • Other situations as they may apply. 

Verify the return address on the notice 

  • The first thing to do is to check the return address on your letter to be sure it’s from the Internal Revenue Service and not from another agency, and not some type of a scam to obtain personal information from you.  If you suspect the letter to be a scam, report it to the IRS at Report Phishing | Internal Revenue Service (irs.gov) 

Respond to the letter  

  • If the letter is authentic, follow the instructions in your letter.   
  • If you feel you should not be held responsible for the debt, review the flow charts in IRS Publication 971. These flow charts will help you determine if you may qualify for relief.  
  • To apply for relief follow the instructions for filing Form 8857. Answer the questions as honestly and completely as you can. Attach copies of domestic orders, divorce decrees, letters, anything you believe would help your case.  
  • Respond to any subsequent letters regarding your claim as quickly as you can. 
  •  Request for Innocent Spouse Relief should be filed as soon as possible.
  • Please be aware as a part of processing your Form 8857, the IRS is required by law to contact your spouse or former spouse to ask if they want to participate in the process.  Unfortunately, there are no exceptions even for victims of spousal abuse or domestic violence.  However, the IRS will not disclose your address or anything about your claim contents other than you have filed a request for relief.  
  • During the time your claim is being processed collection efforts will not be taken against you. Note that this extends the time the IRS has to collect from you if your request is denied. 
  • Refunds may be available – depending on the type of relief you qualify for.  It may take up to 6 months for the IRS to make a determination on your claim for relief.  
  • If your request for relief is denied, you can appeal that determination within 90 days of receipt of the letter. Do not delay in requesting your Appeal. 

Where can I get additional help?

Understanding your notice or letter

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If you still need help

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers and protects taxpayers’ rights. We can offer you help if your tax problem is causing a financial difficulty, you’ve tried and been unable to resolve your issue with the IRS, or you believe an IRS system, process, or procedure just isn’t working as it should. If you qualify for our assistance, which is always free, we will do everything possible to help you.

Visit www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov or call 1-877-777-4778.

Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) are independent from the IRS and TAS. LITCs represent individuals whose income is below a certain level and who need to resolve tax problems with the IRS. LITCs can represent taxpayers in audits, appeals, and tax collection disputes before the IRS and in court. In addition, LITCs can provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language. Services are offered for free or a small fee. For more information or to find an LITC near you, see the LITC page on the TAS website or Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List.


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