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Publication 555

Preparing a Federal Income Tax Return(p9)

The following discussion does not apply to spouses who meet the conditions under Spouses living apart all year, discussed earlier. Those spouses must report their community income as explained in that discussion.

Joint Return Versus Separate Returns(p9)

Ordinarily, filing a joint return will give you a greater tax advantage than filing a separate return. But in some cases, your combined income tax on separate returns may be less than it would be on a joint return.
This discussion concerning joint versus separate returns does not apply to registered domestic partners.
The following rules apply if your filing status is married filing separately.
  1. You should itemize deductions if your spouse itemizes deductions, because you cannot claim the standard deduction.
  2. You cannot take the credit for child and dependent care expenses in most instances.
  3. You cannot take the earned income credit.
  4. You cannot exclude any interest income from qualified U.S. savings bonds that you used for higher education expenses.
  5. You cannot take the credit for the elderly or the disabled unless you lived apart from your spouse all year.
  6. You may have to include in income more of any social security benefits (including any equivalent railroad retirement benefits) you received during the year than you would on a joint return.
  7. You cannot deduct interest paid on a qualified student loan.
  8. You cannot take the education credits.
  9. You may have a smaller child tax credit than you would on a joint return.
  10. You cannot take the exclusion or credit for adoption expenses in most instances.
Figure your tax both on a joint return and on separate returns under the community property laws of your state. You can then compare the tax figured under both methods and use the one that results in less tax.

Separate Return Preparation(p10)

If you file separate returns, you and your spouse must each report half of your combined community income and deductions in addition to your separate income and deductions. Each of you must complete and attach Form 8958 to your Form 1040 showing how you figured the amount you are reporting on your return. On the appropriate lines of your separate Form 1040, list only your share of the income and deductions on the appropriate lines of your separate tax returns (wages, interest, dividends, etc.). The same reporting rule applies to registered domestic partners. For a discussion of the effect of community property laws on certain items of income, deductions, credits, and other return amounts, see Identifying Income, Deductions, and Credits, earlier.
Attach your Form 8958 to your separate return showing how you figured the income, deductions, and federal income tax withheld that each of you reported. Form 8958 is used for married spouses in community property states who choose to file married filing separately. Form 8958 is also used for registered domestic partners who are domiciled in Nevada, Washington, or California. A registered domestic partner in Nevada, Washington, or California must follow state community property laws and report half the combined community income of the individual and his or her registered domestic partner.

Extension of time to file.(p10)

An extension of time for filing your separate return does not extend the time for filing your spouse's (or your registered domestic partner's) separate return. If you and your spouse file a joint return, you cannot file separate returns after the due date for filing either separate return has passed.