Tax Preparation Help  
Publication 971 2008 Tax Year

Publication 971 - Introductory Material

When you file a joint income tax return, the law makes both you and your spouse responsible for the entire tax liability. This is called joint and several liability. Joint and several liability applies not only to the tax liability you show on the return but also to any additional tax liability the IRS determines to be due, even if the additional tax is due to income, deductions, or credits of your spouse or former spouse. You remain jointly and severally liable for the taxes, and the IRS still can collect from you, even if you later divorce and the divorce decree states that your former spouse will be solely responsible for the tax.

In some cases, a spouse (or former spouse) will be relieved of the tax, interest, and penalties on a joint tax return. Three types of relief are available to married persons who filed joint returns.

  1. Innocent spouse relief.

  2. Separation of liability relief.

  3. Equitable relief.

Married persons who did not file joint returns, but who live in community property states, may also qualify for relief. See Community Property Laws, later.

This publication explains these types of relief, who may qualify for them, and how to get them. You can also use the Innocent Spouse Tax Relief Eligibility Explorer at to see if you qualify for innocent spouse relief. Click on “Individuals,” “Tax Information for Innocent Spouses,” and “Explore if you are an Eligible Innocent Spouse.

What this publication does not cover.   This publication does not discuss injured spouse relief. You are an injured spouse if your share of the overpayment shown on your joint return was, or is expected to be, applied (offset) against your spouse's legally enforceable past-due federal taxes, state income taxes, child or spousal support payments, or a federal nontax debt, such as a student loan. If you are an injured spouse, you may be entitled to receive a refund of your share of the overpayment. For more information, get Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation.

Comments and suggestions.   We welcome your comments about this publication and your suggestions for future editions.

  You can write to us at the following address:

Internal Revenue Service
Individual Forms and Publications Branch
1111 Constitution Ave. NW, IR-6526
Washington, DC 20224

  We respond to many letters by telephone. Therefore, it would be helpful if you would include your daytime phone number, including the area code, in your correspondence.

  You can email us at * (The asterisk must be included in the address.) Please put “Publications Comment” on the subject line. Although we cannot respond individually to each email, we do appreciate your feedback and will consider your comments as we revise our tax products.

Ordering forms and publications.   Visit to download forms and publications, call 1-800-829-3676, or write to the address below until May 19, 2008, and receive a response within 10 days after your request is received.

National Distribution Center
P.O. Box 8903
Bloomington, IL 61702-8903

  After May 19, 2008, use the following address:

Internal Revenue Service
1201 N. Mitsubishi Motorway
Bloomington, IL 61704-6613

Questions about innocent spouse relief.

The IRS can help you with your request for innocent spouse relief. If you are working with an IRS employee, you can ask that employee, or you can call 866-897-4270.

Forms (and instructions)

  • 8857
    Request for Innocent Spouse Relief

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