skip navigation

Search Help
Navigation Help


Main Topics
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z #


FAQs
Forms
Publications
Tax Topics


Comments
About Tax Map
IRS Tax Map 2008
Current IRS Tax Map

taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP607f463e
Publication 971

Innocent Spouse Relief


rule
spacer

taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP6e80e02cIntroduction

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 www.irs.gov 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."
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP7fb10f04

What this publication does not cover.(p1)


rule
spacer

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.
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP04439f8e

Comments and suggestions.(p2)


rule
spacer

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 
SE:W:CAR:MP:T:I 
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 *taxforms@irs.gov. (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.
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP03ffed74

Ordering forms and publications.(p2)
spacer

Visit www.irs.gov/formspubs 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


taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP4d4a67fc

Questions about innocent spouse relief.(p2)
spacer

Phone
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.

taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP6c438e94

Useful items

You may want to see:


Forms (and instructions)
 8857: Request for Innocent Spouse Relief
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP23cd945f

How To Request Relief(p2)


rule
spacer

File Form 8857 to ask the IRS for the types of relief discussed in this publication. If you are requesting relief for more than three tax years, you must file an additional Form 8857.
The IRS will review your Form 8857 and let you know if you qualify.
A completed Form 8857 is shown later.
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP2f3ad35e

When to file Form 8857.(p2)


rule
spacer

You should file Form 8857 as soon as you become aware of a tax liability for which you believe only your spouse or former spouse should be held responsible. The following are some of the ways you may become aware of such a liability.
You must file Form 8857 no later than two years after the date on which the IRS first attempted to collect the tax from you after July 22, 1998. (But see the Caution below for an exception.) For this reason, do not delay filing because you do not have all the documentation.
Collection activities that may start the 2-year period are:
Caution
If you are requesting relief based on community property laws, a different filing deadline applies. For details, see Community Property Laws, later.
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP4f103f40

Form 8857 filed by or on behalf of a decedent.(p2)


rule
spacer

An executor (including any other duly appointed representative) may pursue a Form 8857 filed during the decedent's lifetime. An executor (including any other duly appointed representative) may also file Form 8857 as long as the decedent satisfied the eligibility requirements while alive. For purposes of separation of liability relief (discussed later), the decedent's marital status is determined on the earlier of the date relief was requested or the date of death.
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP458d2bea

Situations in which you are not entitled to relief.(p3)


rule
spacer

You are not entitled to innocent spouse relief for any tax year to which the following situations apply.
  1. In a final decision dated after July 22, 1998, a court considered whether to grant you relief from joint liability and decided not to do so.
  2. In a final decision dated after July 22, 1998, a court did not consider whether to grant you relief from joint liability, but you meaningfully participated in the proceeding and could have asked for relief.
  3. You entered into an offer in compromise with the IRS.
  4. You entered into a closing agreement with the IRS that disposed of the same liability for which you want to seek relief.
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP649fe461

Exception for agreements relating to TEFRA partnership proceedings.(p3)
spacer

You may be entitled to relief, discussed in (4) earlier, if you entered into a closing agreement for both partnership items and nonpartnership items, while you were a party to a pending TEFRA partnership proceeding. (TEFRA is an acronym that refers to the "Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982" that prescribed the tax treatment of partnership items.) You are not entitled to relief for the nonpartnership items, but you will be entitled to relief for the partnership items (if you otherwise qualify).
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP3efb032c

Transferee liability not affected by innocent spouse relief provisions.(p3)


rule
spacer

The innocent spouse relief provisions do not affect tax liabilities that arise under federal or state transferee liability or property laws. Therefore, even if you are relieved of the tax liability under the innocent spouse relief provisions, you may remain liable for the unpaid tax, interest, and penalties to the extent provided by these laws.
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP40f1ace1

Example.(p3)

Herb and Wanda timely filed their 2004 joint income tax return on April 15, 2005. Herb died in March 2006, and the executor of Herb's will transferred all of the estate's assets to Wanda. In February 2007, the IRS assessed a deficiency for the 2004 return. The items causing the deficiency belong to Herb. Wanda is relieved of the deficiency under the innocent spouse relief provisions, and Herb's estate remains solely liable for it. However, the IRS may collect the deficiency from Wanda to the extent permitted under federal or state transferee liability or property laws.
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP2b42cd4d

The IRS Must Contact Your Spouse or Former Spouse(p3)


rule
spacer

The IRS Must Contact Your Spouse or Former Spouse

By law, the IRS must contact your spouse or former spouse. There are no exceptions, even for victims of spousal abuse or domestic violence.
We will inform your spouse or former spouse that you filed Form 8857 and will allow him or her to participate in the process. If you are requesting relief from joint and several liability on a joint return, the IRS must also inform him or her of its preliminary and final determinations regarding your request for relief.
However, to protect your privacy, the IRS will not disclose your personal information (for example, your current name, address, phone number(s), information about your employer, your income or assets) or any other information that does not relate to making a determination about your request for relief from liability.
Caution
If you petition the Tax Court (explained below), your spouse or former spouse may see your personal information.
taxmap/pubs/p971-000.htm#TXMP2b31266e

Tax Court Review of Request(p3)


rule
spacer

previous topic occurrence Tax Court next topic occurrence

After you file Form 8857, you may be able to petition (ask) the United States Tax Court to review your request for relief in the following two situations.
  1. The IRS sends you a final determination letter regarding your request for relief.
  2. You do not receive a final determination letter from the IRS within six months from the date you filed Form 8857.
Caution
If you seek equitable relief for an underpaid tax, you will be able to get a Tax Court review of your request only if the tax arose or remained unpaid on or after December 20, 2006.
The United States Tax Court is an independent judicial body and is not part of the IRS.
You must file a petition with the United States Tax Court in order for it to review your request for relief. You must file the petition no later than the 90th day after the date the IRS mails its final determination notice to you. If you do not file a petition, or you file it late, the Tax Court cannot review your request for relief.
Due date
You can get a copy of the rules for filing a petition by writing to the Tax Court at the following address.

United States Tax Court 
400 Second Street, NW 
Washington, DC 20217


Or you can visit the Tax Court's website at www.ustaxcourt.gov.