Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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Unfortunately, this is an all too common situation. Many women find themselves in a situation where they are abused, verbally and or physically. It does not matter whether the abuse suffered was physical or mental; they are both treated equally under IRS guidelines for determining if abused spouses can qualify for relief from tax liabilities caused by their former spouses. 

Some women lack education or are so severely abused that they are scared to question their husbands when it comes to the couple’s income tax return. Even after divorcing, erroneous income tax returns filed during the couple’s marriage can still follow an abused spouse if income was not included or tax was understated on returns filed while the couple were married.

The IRS understands that in these types of situations, women may not have the opportunity to evaluate or understand financial matters, particularly income tax returns. In this event, the IRS will grant relief from having to pay for delinquent taxes which were mainly due to the former spouse’s fraudulent behavior.

The IRS will grant innocent spouse relief for unpaid taxes if the income tax return(s) contained a substantial understatement of tax attributable to grossly erroneous items of the other spouse if (a)  the spouse seeking relief did not know and had no reason to know of the understatement and (b) it would be unfair to hold the spouse seeking relief liable for the unpaid taxes arising out of the understatement. A “substantial understatement” occurs when taxpayers intentially understate their tax liability by omitting income or by claiming deductions that they are not entitled to. The IRS defines a substantial understatement as an understatement which is more than $500.  Grossly erroneous items fall into two categories, omitted income or false deductions.

For an abused spouse to obtain relief, there are a number of factors that if present will make it easier to obtain relief from errors made by the former husband. Each application for innocent spouse relief is evaluated on a case by case basis.  The IRS will look at whether it will be a tremendous economic hardship for an abuse victim to pay unpaid taxes.  Physical or mental disabilities related to abuse, such as depression, which is common among survivors of abuse can impact the spouse’s ability to understand financial matters.

Evidence of disabilities related to abuse will also weigh in favor of qualifying for relief, especially if the joint income tax return was signed during a period when the abused spouse was under duress or mentally unable to comprehend what she was signing.

For the years following your divorce, being compliant with tax laws and filing accurate income tax returns on time demonstrates that unlike your former spouse, you are a law abiding citizen.

Innocent spouse rules are difficult to prove and are tricky. If you feel that you qualify, it is strongly recommended that you get the help of a tax attorney who can evaluate your situation and advise you on whether you can successfully apply for innocent spouse relief.