Innocent Spouse Relief

Innocent Spouse Relief Attorney

Because of certain benefits that filing jointly allows, many married taxpayers elect to file joint returns. However, filing a joint return carries the added burden of both parties being liable for the tax due.

Spousal Liability

In addition, under the Internal Revenue Code, married taxpayers who file jointly are each liable for any additions to the tax, penalties, or interest associated with the account. This is a concept in the law known as joint and several liability, meaning that the spouses are responsible for any tax liabilities together (jointly) but can be held responsible for them as individuals (severally).

From a practical standpoint, the IRS does not have the resources to make the determination on its own of who is an innocent spouse. Doing this for every innocent spouse relief case would require the IRS to review thousands upon thousands of joint collection accounts and make individual determinations as to who should be assessed an increase in liability.

This is why when a married couple signs their tax return both parties are attesting to the accuracy of the tax that is owed. As such, if the IRS finds an increase in the amount of tax that is owed, it holds both parties equally responsible for the increase.

The Implications

This carries two implications:

  1. It places the burden on the parties to determine how to pay the liability, rather than the IRS.
  2. Since both parties are considered responsible for the liability, the IRS can proceed with collection action against either one of them rather than just limiting itself to one spouse.

Courts have supported the IRS policy of targeting either spouse for a balance that is due. Spouses, even if both agree, may not insist that the IRS first try to collect from one spouse before going after the assets of the other.

Divorce Decrees Do Not Count

In addition, courts have also held that the IRS is not bound by divorce decrees and other otherwise legally binding agreements reached by the spouses. The rationale behind this is that it would be unfair to limit the collection rights of the IRS by virtue of an agreement that it was not a party to. However, the Internal Revenue Code recognizes that it is not fair to hold innocent spouses responsible for liabilities in all circumstances.

Thus, it created several avenues where taxpayers can seek relief from IRS collection activities. Although commonly known as innocent spouse relief, these actually constitute three different ways that taxpayers can absolve themselves from past liability owed. Innocent spouse relief also has several nuances, which you need to be aware of in order to make a successful claim for relief.

The Brotman Process

Brotman Law has an excellent track record of securing innocent spouse relief for spouses who should genuinely not be liable for the liability of their current/former spouse.

Our process starts with obtaining the facts surrounding the liability and framing them in the best possible light to support your claim. Innocent spouse claims are prepared with a careful mixture of legal citations and supporting factual elements.

The goal with any innocent spouse claim (or with other types of relief) is to try and get it accepted by the appeals office without any fight. However, this may not always be possible. In the event that your innocent spouse claim is rejected, we can also work with you to best structure how to deal with IRS collections.

These issues are best considered at the start of the matter, so that the client can have a clear game plan and a backup plan in place just in case their innocent spouse claim is unsuccessful.

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