Tax Education

Will Living Separately From My Spouse Affect My Taxes?

Though it may seem outside the norm, there are actually a number of situations in which spouses remain together yet must live apart, such as military duty, career situations, or schooling.

If these circumstances apply to you, you may be wondering how you accurately file for taxes. Do you file with a single return? Or married filing separately?

Here are the answers you need to know…

The Rule on Married Couples Living Separately

Whether you need to file together or separately is all related to the marriage license.

Even if you are in a situation where you are still technically married but separated and live independently, you may still file a joint tax return if the marriage license is still active.

The law also applies to same-sex marriages and common law marriages, as long as it is recognized in the state that you reside in or where the marriage was arranged.

The only two pieces of criteria you need to meet are:

  • Are you still married according to law?
  • Does your spouse agree to file a joint return?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you may file a joint return. The IRS does not mandate that married couples occupy the same residence.

And, according to the IRS, you are considered married for an entire tax year as long as the marriage date is before the last day of the year. For example, if you did not get married until December of 2019, you can still file as married for the entire 2019 tax year.

Married Filing Status Exceptions

Like any tax law, there is always an exception to the rule. The most significant for married couples is when the separation is caused due to a court-ordered decree of separate maintenance.

In those cases, you must make sure that the separated spouse agrees to file jointly, or your status will not get accepted by the IRS.

Furthermore, if the marriage is annulled by a court order that rules you never had a valid marriage, you need to file Form 1040X for every tax year that you file jointly.

Individuals that unfortunately lose a spouse to death are still considered married for the tax year, so long as the spouse passed before January 1st of the new year.

Is it better to file separately or jointly?

In almost every circumstance it makes more sense to file jointly (so long as the agreement is mutual between separated partners), as it offers a significantly higher standard deduction according to the new tax law. Additionally, there are a number of other tax breaks that married couples can take advantage of compared to single filers.

Couples may also qualify for:

  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
  • American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Education Tax Credits
  • Exclusion or credit for adoption expenses

Separate tax returns, on the other hand, have a tendency to deliver a higher tax rate with a much smaller standard deduction. For example, in 2018 the standard deduction was only $12,000 for married filing separately, while married filing jointly received $24,000.

Tax Education You Can Count On

It is important to note that once you file under ‘separate’ status, even if your partner would like to file jointly, the two of you are automatically disqualified from the ‘married filing jointly’ status.

Therefore, clear communication with your partner (even if separated) can help you reach a decision on how you want to approach taxes. If you struggle to get along with a former spouse, it may be wise to consult a tax professional that can help serve as a mediator so you can both get the most tax breaks.Levy & Associates wants to help with your tax needs. Contact us today for an initial, free consultation: 800-TAX-LEVY or visit

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