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Furious_Marmot
03-02-2009, 12:10 PM
As I understand it, married people must file their federal taxes using the 'married' rules (either jointly or separately) and are not allowed to use the 'single' rules. How does the IRS define married? Does it mean '2 people who have a valid marriage certificate and are not divorced'? Does it include common law marriage, in those states that have it? What about those people who have lived together for long time in non-common law marriage states?

RealityChuck
03-02-2009, 12:37 PM
You need a marriage certificate and not be divorced as of midnight of December 31 of the tax year.

AFAIK, common law marriages don't count.

Harriet the Spry
03-02-2009, 12:57 PM
This site indicates that common law marriages count if they are recognized in your state.

http://www.bankrate.com/yho/itax/tax_adviser/20080201_common-law_marriage_tax_a1.asp

Duckster
03-02-2009, 01:02 PM
In general, your filing status depends on whether you are considered unmarried or married. For federal tax purposes, a marriage means only a legal union between a man and a woman as husband and wife.

Source: http://www.irs.gov/publications/p501/ar02.html#en_US_publink100041740

Topic 353 - What is Your Filing Status?

Generally, your marital status on the last day of the year determines your status for the entire year. If you are unmarried, or if you are legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree according to your state law, and you do not qualify for another filing status, your filing status is single.

Generally, to qualify for head of household status, you must be unmarried and not entitled to file as a qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child. You must also have provided more than half the cost of maintaining as your home a household that was the main home for a qualifying person. You may also qualify for head of household status if you, though married, file a separate return, your spouse has not lived in your home during the last six months of the tax year, and you provided more than half the cost of maintaining as your home a household that was the main home for a qualifying child for more than one half of your tax year.

If you are married, you and your spouse may file a joint return or separate returns.

If your spouse died in the current year and you did not remarry before the end of the year, you may still file a joint return. This is the last year for which you may file a joint return with that spouse.

If your spouse died during the previous two years, you may be able to file as a qualifying widow or widower. To do this, you must meet all four of the following tests:


You were entitled to file a joint return with your spouse in the year he or she died. It does not matter whether you actually filed a joint return,
You did not remarry before the end of the current tax year,
You have a child, stepchild, adopted child, or foster child for whom you can claim a dependency exemption, and
You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home that was the main home for you and that child, for the whole year.


Source: http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc353.html

Stathol
03-02-2009, 01:02 PM
Edit: Nevermind. Beaten to the punch.

DrDeth
03-02-2009, 01:04 PM
You need a marriage certificate and not be divorced as of midnight of December 31 of the tax year.

AFAIK, common law marriages don't count.

The IRS pretty well accepts your own states definition of Marriage.

And in general, MFJ is not an audit issue. IRS auditors don't generaly demand proof of marriage. Nor if two people lived together and both always filed Single would it generally be an issue, even if they crossed some sort of "so many years" common law rule for that state.

Now, there is one audit issue that does come up.

John and Jane file Joint for a few years. They have a kid.

Next year, John files Single and Jane files HoH and gets EITC. However it appears they are still living together as man & wife.

So, it's inconsitenties in history and stories where apparently they are jugling and changing martital status for pure tax advantage where there's a problem.

Furious_Marmot
03-02-2009, 02:40 PM
Thanks, everybody. So, if I read this correctly, the IRS goes with whatever marital status the state of residence considers the tax filers to be. The main complication would come from married people lying about their status in order to pay less, as in the John andd Jane example.

What if John and Jane get an amicable divorce, split their household property, but then continue on living as they had before? They are now legally not married, right? How does the IRS define 'living as man and wife'? Sex? Same house?

CookingWithGas
03-02-2009, 02:43 PM
What if John and Jane get an amicable divorce, split their household property, but then continue on living as they had before? They are now legally not married, right? How does the IRS define 'living as man and wife'? Sex? Same house?See above--the IRS doesn't even attempt to define this. It's whatever the legal definition is in the state of residence.

If the state says, "We recognize their divorce and therefore they are not married," then it doesn't matter if they have sex, have more kids, joint title on mortgage (unless farther down the line a common-law definition kicks in).

Furious_Marmot
03-02-2009, 04:46 PM
So then, except in the 11 states which have common-law marriage, married people can avoid the marriage penalty (insofar as it exists) by getting a divorce or anulment while not actually changing how they live.

DrDeth
03-02-2009, 05:13 PM
So then, except in the 11 states which have common-law marriage, married people can avoid the marriage penalty (insofar as it exists) by getting a divorce or anulment while not actually changing how they live.

Maybe. If they have previously filed as Joint, but now have changed their marital status purely for tax benefits, the IRS does not look with favor on this.

Dr. Drake
03-02-2009, 05:20 PM
See above--the IRS doesn't even attempt to define this. It's whatever the legal definition is in the state of residence.Except for the case of gay marriage. Not that the IRS has any say in the matter, but the soi-disant Defense of Marriage Act ensured that state-sanctioned marriages between two men or two women would not be recognized for filing federal taxes as a married couple. I have no idea what the IRS's specific position on this issue is (that is, whether they check up on marriage certificates or simply take people's word; my 1040 has a box for "single" or "married," but not for "sex.")

DrDeth
03-02-2009, 05:37 PM
Except for the case of gay marriage. Not that the IRS has any say in the matter, but the soi-disant Defense of Marriage Act ensured that state-sanctioned marriages between two men or two women would not be recognized for filing federal taxes as a married couple. I have no idea what the IRS's specific position on this issue is (that is, whether they check up on marriage certificates or simply take people's word; my 1040 has a box for "single" or "married," but not for "sex.")

That is not any choice of the IRS and it is not an "audit issue". That does not mean that the IRS will say it's OK, but they do not seek out such cases for audits.

Furious_Marmot
03-02-2009, 05:41 PM
Maybe. If they have previously filed as Joint, but now have changed their marital status purely for tax benefits, the IRS does not look with favor on this.

This seems maddeningly vague, not that I would be surprised. Are there hard-and-fast rules for this determination or is it more of a 'definition of obscenity' type thing?

CookingWithGas
03-03-2009, 08:04 AM
This seems maddeningly vague, not that I would be surprised. Are there hard-and-fast rules for this determination or is it more of a 'definition of obscenity' type thing?I don't think there are hard and fast rules, but if a couple divorces on 12/31 and remarries on 1/1 every year then it's an open-and-shut case. :)