By requesting innocent spouse relief, you can be relieved of
responsibility for paying tax, interest, and penalties if your spouse
did something wrong on your tax return. The tax, interest, and
penalties that qualify for relief can only be collected from your
spouse. However, you are jointly and individually responsible for any
tax, interest, and penalties that do not qualify for relief. The IRS
can collect these amounts from either you or your spouse.
You cannot be granted relief from household employment taxes that
are reported on Form 1040.
You must meet all of the following conditions to qualify
for innocent spouse relief.
- You filed a joint return which has an understatement of
tax due to erroneous items (defined later) of your
- You establish that at the time you signed the joint return
you did not know, and had no reason to know, that there was an
understatement of tax.
- Taking into account all the facts and circumstances, it
would be unfair to hold you liable for the understatement of tax. (See
Indications of Unfairness for Innocent Spouse Relief,
Understatement of Tax
An understatement of tax is generally the difference between the
total amount of tax that should have been shown on your return and the
amount of tax that was actually shown on your return.
The IRS will figure the understatement of tax due to erroneous
items of your spouse after you file Form 8857. You are not
required to do this computation.
Partial relief when extent of understatement is unknown.
You may qualify for partial relief if, at the time you filed your
return, you knew or had reason to know, that there was an
understatement of tax due to your spouse's erroneous items, but you
did not know how large the understatement was. You will be relieved of
the understatement to the extent you did not know about it and had no
reason to know about it.
At the time you signed your joint return, you knew that your spouse
did not report $5,000 of gambling winnings. The IRS examined your tax
return several months after you filed it and determined that your
spouse's unreported gambling winnings were actually $25,000. This
resulted in a much larger understatement of tax than you knew about at
the time you signed your return. You established that you did not know
about, and had no reason to know about, the additional $20,000 because
of the way your spouse handled gambling winnings. The understatement
of tax due to the $20,000 will qualify for innocent spouse relief if
you meet the other requirements. The understatement of tax due to the
$5,000 of gambling winnings will not qualify for relief.
Erroneous items are either of the following.
- Unreported income. This is any gross income item
received by your spouse that is not reported.
- Incorrect deduction, credit, or basis. This is
any improper deduction, credit, or property basis claimed by your
The following are examples of erroneous items.
- The expense for which the deduction is taken was never paid
or incurred. For example, your spouse, a cash-basis taxpayer, deducted
$10,000 of advertising expenses on Schedule C (Form 1040), but never
paid for any advertising.
- The expense does not qualify as a deductible expense. For
example, your spouse claimed a business fee deduction of $10,000 that
was for the payment of state fines. Fines are not deductible.
- No factual argument can be made to support the deductibility
of the expense. For example, your spouse claimed $4,000 for security
costs related to a home office, which were actually veterinary and
food costs for your family's two dogs.
Indications of Unfairness for Innocent Spouse Relief
The IRS will consider all of the facts and circumstances of the
case in order to determine whether it is unfair to hold you
responsible for the understatement. Two indicators the IRS may use to
decide that it is unfair to hold you responsible for the tax are
- Received any significant benefit from the understatement of
- Were later divorced from or deserted by your spouse.
You can receive significant benefit either directly or indirectly.
For example, if your spouse did not report $10,000 of income on your
joint return, you can benefit directly if your spouse shares that
$10,000 with you. You can benefit indirectly from the unreported
income if your spouse uses it to pay extraordinary household expenses.
You do not have to receive a benefit immediately for it to be
significant. For example, money your spouse gives you several years
after he or she received it or amounts inherited from your spouse (or
former spouse) can be a significant benefit.
Support payments that you receive as a result of a divorce
proceeding are not a significant benefit.