By requesting innocent spouse relief, you can be relieved of responsibility for paying tax, interest, and penalties if your spouse (or former spouse) improperly reported items or omitted items on your tax return. Generally, the tax, interest, and penalties that qualify for relief can only be collected from your spouse (or former spouse). However, you are jointly and individually responsible for any tax, interest, and penalties that do not qualify for relief. The IRS can collect these amounts from either you or your spouse (or former spouse).
You must meet all of the following conditions to qualify for innocent spouse relief.
- You filed a joint return.
- There is an understated tax on the return that is due to erroneous items (defined later) of your spouse (or former spouse).
- You can show that when you signed the joint return you did not know, and had no reason to know, that the understated tax existed (or the extent to which the understated tax existed). See Actual Knowledge or Reason To Know, later.
- Taking into account all the facts and circumstances, it would be unfair to hold you liable for the understated tax. See Indications of Unfairness for Innocent Spouse Relief, later.
A request for innocent spouse relief will not be granted if the IRS proves that you and your spouse (or former spouse) transferred property to one another as part of a fraudulent scheme. A fraudulent scheme includes a scheme to defraud the IRS or another third party, such as a creditor, ex-spouse, or business partner.taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#TXMP158d0e37
You have an understated tax if the IRS determined that your total tax should be more than the amount that was actually shown on your return. taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#TXMP21df8f0c
Erroneous items are either of the following.
- Unreported income. This is any gross income item received by your spouse (or former spouse) that is not reported.
- Incorrect deduction, credit, or basis. This is any improper deduction, credit, or property basis claimed by your spouse (or former spouse).
The following are examples of erroneous items.
- The expense for which the deduction is taken was never paid or incurred. For example, your spouse, a cash-basis taxpayer, deducted $10,000 of advertising expenses on Schedule C of your joint Form 1040, but never paid for any advertising.
- The expense does not qualify as a deductible expense. For example, your spouse claimed a business fee deduction of $10,000 that was for the payment of state fines. Fines are not deductible.
- No factual argument can be made to support the deductibility of the expense. For example, your spouse claimed $4,000 for security costs related to a home office, which were actually veterinary and food costs for your family's two dogs.
You knew or had reason to know of an understated tax if:
- You actually knew of the understated tax, or
- A reasonable person in similar circumstances would have known of the understated tax.
If you actually knew about an erroneous item that belongs to your spouse (or former spouse), the relief discussed here does not apply to any part of the understated tax due to that item. You and your spouse (or former spouse) remain jointly liable for that part of the understated tax. For information about the criteria for determining whether you actually knew about an erroneous item, see Actual Knowledge later under Separation of Liability Relief.taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#TXMP63515390
If you had reason to know about an erroneous item that belongs to your spouse (or former spouse), the relief discussed here does not apply to any part of the understated tax due to that item. You and your spouse (or former spouse) remain jointly liable for that part of the understated tax.
The IRS will consider all facts and circumstances in determining whether you had reason to know of an understated tax due to an erroneous item. The facts and circumstances include:
- The nature of the erroneous item and the amount of the erroneous item relative to other items.
- The financial situation of you and your spouse (or former spouse).
- Your educational background and business experience.
- The extent of your participation in the activity that resulted in the erroneous item.
- Whether you failed to ask, at or before the time the return was signed, about items on the return or omitted from the return that a reasonable person would question.
- Whether the erroneous item represented a departure from a recurring pattern reflected in prior years' returns (for example, omitted income from an investment regularly reported on prior years' returns).
You may qualify for partial relief if, at the time you filed your return, you had no knowledge or reason to know of only a portion of an erroneous item. You will be relieved of the understated tax due to that portion of the item if all other requirements are met for that portion.taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#TXMP6e52d45a
At the time you signed your joint return, you knew that your spouse did not report $5,000 of gambling winnings. The IRS examined your tax return several months after you filed it and determined that your spouse's unreported gambling winnings were actually $25,000. You established that you did not know about, and had no reason to know about, the additional $20,000 because of the way your spouse handled gambling winnings. The understated tax due to the $20,000 will qualify for innocent spouse relief if you meet the other requirements. The understated tax due to the $5,000 of gambling winnings you knew about will not qualify for relief.taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#TXMP740dec7c
The IRS will consider all of the facts and circumstances of the case in order to determine whether it is unfair to hold you responsible for the understated tax.
The following are examples of factors the IRS will consider.
- Whether you received a significant benefit (defined below), either directly or indirectly, from the understated tax.
- Whether your spouse (or former spouse) deserted you.
- Whether you and your spouse have been divorced or separated.
- Whether you received a benefit on the return from the understated tax.
For other factors, see Factors for Determining Whether To Grant Equitable Relief
later under Equitable Relief.
A significant benefit is any benefit in excess of normal support. Normal support depends on your particular circumstances. Evidence of a direct or indirect benefit may consist of transfers of property or rights to property, including transfers that may be received several years after the year of the understated tax. taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#TXMP78b77712
You receive money from your spouse that is beyond normal support. The money can be traced to your spouse's lottery winnings that were not reported on your joint return. You will be considered to have received a significant benefit from that income. This is true even if your spouse gives you the money several years after he or she received it.