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.

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

  1. My husband and I have been separated (not legally) for the last month until. I’m a stay at home/homeschooling mom of four, but two weeks ago my kids started staying at his place 50% of the time. He just got his 1099 last week and I’m wondering if I should just let him file married but separately and claim all the kids since I didn’t have a job in 2021. We owe taxes to the IRS that he has been dragging his feet on, and I personally don’t want to deal with owing them again this year for years to come.

    Next year I will be filing married separately and claiming 2 of 4 children because I’ll have started working, and our divorce won’t be finalized. Would that be okay to do?

    Thanks you

    1. Since you and he were still married on 12/31/21, you can file a joint return with him, or you can file as married filing separately. If you file a joint return with him, the taxes on that tax return will be considerably lower than if he files as married filing separately. And it is likely that since that income was all earned during the marriage, the income taxes that he owes on that tax return will be considered to be a marital debt to be shared by the two of you. So don’t think that you are escaping paying tax on that marital income by refusing to file jointly with him. Check with an attorney to see how the income tax debt for taxes on income earned during the marriage is treated in your state.

      You say that for the year 2022 you’d like to file separately because your divorce won’t be finalized by the end of the year. If you and he have lived separately and at least one of the children was living with you for more than six months of the year, you can claim head of household instead of married filing separately, which are better rates. The children can be claimed by the parent who provides the majority of their support during the year, unless you and he agree otherwise.

  2. I am divorced with one child. I am permitted to claim my child on my taxes on the even years and ex claims our child on the odd years. For my W-4, should my status remain “single” or “head of household”?

    1. You may claim head of household if you maintain a home that is the principal place of residence for a child for more than six months of the year. If your divorce agreement is silent as to who is entitled to claim the child and when, you may claim the child if you provide over half of their support. On your W-4, if you claim single, they will take out more taxes in withholding, which could result in a bigger refund at the end of the year. If you claim head of household they will take out less in taxes, which may put you in a breakeven situation at the end of the year.

  3. Hello. My husband and I have been separated (not legally but due to a domestic violence TPO) for seven months. He wants my info to file taxes jointly as we normally do. I believe he is planning to divorce soon. I am unemployed and his income is high. We have children and a home. The money is always direct depositors into an account in only his name and then he halves it down middle usually. We are in a community property state. Should I provide this info or wait to see if he files divorce? Thank you in advance for any advice.

    1. Whether he files for divorce or not, tax returns are due April 15. You can file jointly, as he wants, or file your own separate tax return, reporting your half of the community income plus any separate income you have. That community income is determined by the laws of your state, and might be the income for the full year, or the income through the date you separated, or some other date. Whatever it is, filing your separate return will require schedules to be attached to your tax return explaining how you made the computations, so filing jointly would be the simpler solution and may also cost less in taxes, but you’d have to figure it both ways to be sure. Either way, the result is the same, whether he files for divorce or not.

  4. I receive SSDI and my lawyer encouraged me on taking a lum sum of $11000 I January 5, 2019. The lump sum spousal support credit split in half $6000 check and $5000 credit at end of financial community property. What is a credit at the end? The x took out 10,000 of IRA in 2018. He had us file married and joint. My SSDI got taxed 85%.It was over the $11000. The fed was owed $1037. The x paid it. But, the source of my $6000 was from the IRA and there was a new tax law in 1/1/2019 about a receiving spouse is not supposed to be taxed on spousal support. Help! This is confusing and the attorney does not give tax advice. I even had to find out on my own to get a Special Need Trust. Again, no help from atty or referral. I can’t afford another atty or find one.

    1. I understand that your attorney doesn’t give tax advice. But he/she doesn’t need to. If your agreement says that you will be paid the money, then it should have come to you in cash. If your spouse took it from his IRA, then the tax burden should be his, not yours.

      And as for your question about what is a credit at the end, I don’t know. You will need to refer to your agreement to see if it spells it out, and if not, ask your attorney for clarification as to what that means.

  5. My husband served me divirce papers May 2018..I was stay at home mom of 2 children for 15yrs while he worked..He did Taxes and filed married joint..I never was allowed to look at Taxes and he wouldn’t tell me how much he got back each year or what he claimed on Taxes..I only signed Taxes 2 times the entire 18yrs and that was only bc he was in Aladka working and told tax preparer to call and tell me to go to preparers office and sign..He would either cash refund in preparers office or had it directly deposited into his own personal acct..He wont tell me how he filed in 2018..And I verbally and by my Lawyer and by text told him he didn’t have my permission to file but he told me thst his Lawyer told him that he could file Taxes? Im so confused and I dont know what to do? He hasnt given me any of Tax refund money and now I’m worried that he is going to get and keep my stimulous check that Im hoping Ill get..

    1. If he files a joint tax return and you do not file a separate return of your own, then it is presumed by the IRS that you consented to the return he filed being your tax return. If you do not want to file jointly with him this year, then file your own tax return by the due date, which has been extended to July 15. AS for the stimulous check, if the IRS has a bank account information from the last tax return they received, probably the joint 2018 tax return, the economic impact payment will go there. If you want it to go elsewhere, change your bank account information at, “get my payment” button.

  6. If you are in the middle of getting a divorce and your on SSI and your wife works. Can you still claim you on her taxes and is it legal for her to not tell you. And keep all the money for her self. I didn’t sign anything she did it thru turbo tax her self.

    1. If you had no income she could claim you as her dependent on her married filing separate return. If she filed a joint return with you, and you didn’t agree to that, unless you file a married filing separate return the IRS will accept the joint return as your filing.

  7. I’m in the middle of a divorce. I got an extension on my taxes because my husband refuses to give me tax information. He filed his own as married filing separate and he itemized. How do I do my taxes without any tax info from him in order to do my taxes. I’m so confused.
    Help please there due in 13 days.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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?

  16. 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.

  17. 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?

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