Getting Divorced? What Tax Filing Status Should You Use?

If you are in the middle of a divorce, it can be confusing to know what tax filing status to use. With that in mind, we’re re-posting this helpful article from last year, which breaks down all your different options.

Even after the emotional turmoil of a divorce, life goes on, and so do taxes. If you are planning a divorce or in the middle of one, you’ll need to know how to file when tax time comes around again. Do you file jointly or separately?

The answer will depend on when you actually get divorced. If you and your spouse are still legally married by the last day of the year, then you have the ability to file under “Married Filing Jointly” status.

Married Filing Separately

This doesn’t mean you must file jointly. If you are in the middle of a contentious divorce, or if you have been separated for some time, then it is probably a better idea to file under the status of “Married Filing Separately,” which saves you from having to work with your spouse to file together. But using that filing status may cost you more in taxes. When you file separately, your tax rate is higher and you won’t be able to claim education benefits, the earned income credit, child and dependent care, or adoption credit. And if your spouse itemized deductions, you won’t be able to claim the standard deduction. In addition, if you live in California you have to deal with community property allocations and adjustments, which will add extra work and complexity to your tax preparation chores.

Filing as a Single

If you crave that “Single” tax filing status, then make sure your marriage is legally dissolved by December 31st. If you make that deadline, then enjoy filing only for yourself, unless you are claiming “Head of Household” status. To qualify as a “Head of Household,” you must cover over half of the costs to maintain your household and your home must be the primary residence for at least one dependent, usually a child. That means that the dependent must live at your house for more than half the year. Even if you are still married, you can use the more advantageous “Head of Household” filing status if your spouse was not a member of your household for the last six months of the year and you had a dependent child living in your home.

These different tax filing statuses can be tricky, so it may be a good idea to utilize a tax accountant during or after a divorce to make sure you are filing correctly. The last thing you need after an exhausting divorce is a friendly audit from the IRS. Also, your financial situation will likely look very different after your divorce, and you may be qualified different tax breaks and deductions you didn’t qualify for during marriage. For this reason alone, it is probably a good idea to sit down with a tax accountant after your divorce is finalized. (Learn how to Get Your Financial Life Back in Order After Divorce.)

To learn more about the financial side of divorce and how to protect your assets, take a look at our Divorce and Widowhood article archive just for women.

24 thoughts on “Getting Divorced? What Tax Filing Status Should You Use?”

  1. Pingback: Getting Divorced? What Tax Filing Status Should You Use? |

  2. I am in the middle of the divorce process (our separation began legally in January 2016), and am interested in filing as “married filing separately” for last year since (as a stay-at-home-mom, my income is negligible compared to my ex-husband’s).. Separately, I have learned that I will be eligible to receive half of our family’s contribution to my ex’s retirement savings during our marriage. I am wondering if filing as “married filing separately” will affect my rights to the retirement savings for the year that I file separately?

      1. Thank you so much. Your answer led me to another question. If my husband and I file separately, he will have a tax liability for 2015 and I will not. Are we jointly responsible for the liability on his return considering that we were married for the entirety of 2015?

  3. jeanette Darden

    I have always file my taxes separated more than 30 years or more, no property plus head of house hold .
    Do I need to worry?

    1. You can file as head of household if you and your spouse did not live together during the last six months of the year and you maintain a home that is the principal residence of a dependent child for more than six months of the year.

  4. Why do I have to pay taxes on my divorce settlement when my ex-husband and I pay taxes on this money while we were married?

  5. Ex-spouse and I filed separately for 2013 taxes. He had verbally said he would get the information i needed to file separately. The information he provided in W2 form was fraudulent and he had encouraged me to use that for my taxes. He actually followed up with me more than twice to see if i filed. I did not use his fraudulent information provided. What course of action do I take knowing ex-spouse is using these types of tax fraud.

  6. Hi. It appears I will be divorced before the end of this year. I am quit claiming the house and land to my husband. I paid the mortgage for about half of the year.
    He makes far less money than I do.
    How shall I file, and will I be crucified on taxes?
    Thanks for your help.

  7. My husband left in mid Dec 2016. He has not paid the mortgage since then and I can’t afford it on my own. I have a temporary in February and I have a lawyer. My question is this when I go to file taxes can I claim the interest filing married filing separate on my tax return?

    1. If you live in a community property state, and the mortgage was paid from earnings, then you are entitled to half of the interest deduction. If you live in a separate property state and his income was considered to be his separate property, you may not be able to claim the interest.

  8. im married in a dovorce state since 1/28/16,all this time i had my children with me but i have receice child support and spousal support,but i have earnings from work,how can i file? thank you

  9. i am considering selling my house. My attorney said it would be best to put the ENTIRE proceeds from the sale of the house in an attorney’s interest bearing trust account. His reasoning was because if my husband has ripped me off, I won’t be able to get that money back otherwise.
    Questions: if I the proceeds are 1.5 mil, and the most I would need to collect from my husband is $100,000, why would I tie up 1.5 mil in a trust account?

    2) the interest earned on an attorney’s interest bearing trust account goes to attorney? Or myself & husband? Or?

    3) is it true that attorney’s want all the money put in a trust account so they can ask to get paid from that account and do they know they have an account to funnel money from?

    1. Those questions and concerns make a lot of sense, and are great questions to ask your attorney. The interest on the account usually goes to the person(s) whose money is in the account. And yes, the attorneys can be paid from that account if that is the agreement between the owners of the funds (you and your husband) or what the court orders.

  10. My attorney said if I file married filing separately I must claim 1/2 of my husbands income and our tax returns must mirror each others. Is this true? I don’t think it is. It doesn’t make sense to me.

    1. If you live in a community property state, then half of the income you earn belongs to him and vice versa, and whatever income belongs to you should be reported on your tax return. If you have no income other than wages or income from community property, then your attorney is correct.

  11. At the end of June 2018 my husband of 17 years. He decides to move out. I have been a stay-at-home mom. Divorce still in process. He is in the military. I’m not sure how he filed it married or separately . He would tell me he get my signature electronic. Is that legal ? I’m just trying to figure out everything.

    1. If you did not approve of him filing jointly for both of you, and you instead filed your own tax return, then the IRS would accept your return as the valid one. If he filed jointly for both of you and you did not file your own tax return, then they will accept the joint return as the valid one.

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