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IRS.gov Website
Publication 971
taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#en_us_publink100098623

Innocent Spouse Relief(p5)

rule
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.
  1. You filed a joint return.
  2. There is an understated tax on the return that is due to erroneous items (defined later) of your spouse (or former spouse).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
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, former spouse, or business partner.
taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#en_us_publink100098624

Understated Tax(p5)

rule
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#en_us_publink100098625

Erroneous Items(p6)

rule
Erroneous items are either of the following.
  1. Unreported income. This is any gross income item received by your spouse (or former spouse) that is not reported.
  2. 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.
taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#en_us_publink100098626

Actual Knowledge or Reason To Know(p6)

rule
You knew or had reason to know of an understated tax if:
taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#en_us_publink100098627

Actual knowledge.(p6)

rule
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#en_us_publink100098628

Reason to know.(p6)

rule
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:
taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#en_us_publink100098629

Partial relief when a portion of erroneous item is unknown.(p6)

rule
You may qualify for partial relief if, at the time you filed your return, you had no knowledge or reason to know of 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#en_us_publink100098630

Example.(p6)

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#en_us_publink100098631

Indications of Unfairness for Innocent Spouse Relief(p6)

rule
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. For other factors, see Factors for Determining Whether To Grant Equitable Relief later under Equitable Relief.
taxmap/pubs/p971-002.htm#en_us_publink100098632

Significant benefit.(p6)

rule
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#en_us_publink100098633

Example.(p7)

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.