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Publication 971


The following flowcharts provide a quick way for determining whether you may qualify for relief. But do not rely on these flowcharts alone. Also read the earlier discussions.

Figure A. Do You Qualify for Innocent Spouse Relief?


Figure B. Do You Qualify for Separation of Liability Relief?


Figure C. Do You Qualify for Equitable Relief?


Questions & Answers(p19)

This section answers questions commonly asked by taxpayers about innocent spouse relief.
What is joint and several liability?
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 the income, deductions, or credits of your spouse or former spouse. You remain jointly and severally liable for 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.
How can I get relief from joint and several liability?
There are three types of relief for filers of joint returns: "innocent spouse relief," "separation of liability relief," and "equitable relief." Each type has different requirements. They are explained separately below.
What are the rules for innocent spouse relief?
To qualify for innocent spouse relief, you must meet all of the following conditions.
What are "erroneous items"?
Erroneous items are any deductions, credits, or bases that are incorrectly stated on the return, and any income that is not properly reported on the return.
What is an "understated tax"?
You have an understated tax if the IRS determined that your total tax should be more than the amount actually shown on your return. For example, you reported total tax on your 2008 return of $2,500. IRS determined in an audit of your 2008 return that the total tax should be $3,000. You have a $500 understated tax.
Will I qualify for innocent spouse relief in any situation where there is an understated tax?
No. There are many situations in which you may owe tax that is related to your spouse (or former spouse), but not be eligible for innocent spouse relief. For example, you and your spouse file a joint return on which you report $10,000 of income and deductions, but you knew that your spouse was not reporting $5,000 of dividends. You are not eligible for innocent spouse relief because you have knowledge of the understated tax.
What are the rules for separation of liability relief?
Under this type of relief, you allocate (separate) the understated tax (plus interest and penalties) on your joint return between you and your spouse (or former spouse). The understated tax allocated to you is generally the amount you are responsible for. To qualify for separation of liability relief, you must have filed a joint return and meet either of the following requirements at the time you file Form 8857.
In addition to the above requirements, you must file a Form 8857 within 2 years after the date on which the IRS first began collection activity against you after July 22, 1998.
Why would a request for separation of liability relief be denied?
Even if you meet the requirements listed earlier, a request for separation of liability relief will not be granted in the following situations.
What are the rules for equitable relief?
Equitable relief is only available if you meet all of the following conditions. Note. Unlike innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief, if you qualify for equitable relief, you can also get relief from an underpaid tax. (An underpaid tax is tax that is properly shown on the return, but has not been paid.)
How do state community property laws affect my ability to qualify for relief?
Community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Generally, community property laws require you to allocate community income and expenses equally between both spouses. However, community property laws are not taken into account in determining whether an item belongs to you or to your spouse (or former spouse) for purposes of requesting any relief from liability.  
How do I request relief?
File Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief, to ask the IRS for relief. You must file an additional Form 8857 if you are requesting relief for more than three years.
When should I file Form 8857?
If you are requesting innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief, file Form 8857 no later than two years after the date on which the IRS first began collection activities against you after July 22, 1998.
If you are requesting equitable relief, see Exception for equitable relief. under How To Request Relief, earlier, for when to file Form 8857.
If you are requesting relief from liability arising from community property law, see How and When To Request Relief under Community Property Laws, earlier, for when to file Form 8857.
Where should I file Form 8857?
Use the address or fax number shown in the Instructions for Form 8857.
I am currently undergoing an examination of my return. How do I request innocent spouse relief?
File Form 8857 at the address or send it to the fax number shown in the Instructions for Form 8857. Do not file it with the employee assigned to examine your return.
What if the IRS has given me notice that it will levy my account for the tax liability and I decide to request relief?
Generally, the IRS has 10 years to collect an amount you owe. This is the collection statute of limitations. By law, the IRS is not allowed to collect from you after the 10-year period ends.
If you request relief for any tax year, the IRS cannot collect from you for that year while your request is pending. But interest and penalties continue to accrue. Your request is generally considered pending from the date the IRS receives your Form 8857 until the date your request is resolved. This includes the time the Tax Court is considering your request.
After your case is resolved, the IRS can begin or resume collecting from you. The 10-year period will be increased by the amount of time your request for relief was pending plus 60 days. See Publication 594 for more information.
What is "injured spouse relief"?
Injured spouse relief is different from innocent spouse relief. When a joint return is filed and the refund is used to pay one spouse's past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child support, spousal support, or federal non-tax debt, such as a student loan, the other spouse may be considered an injured spouse. The injured spouse can get back his or her share of the joint overpayment using Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation.
You are considered an injured spouse if:
  1. You are not legally obligated to pay the past-due amount, and
  2. You meet any of the following conditions:
    1. You made and reported tax payments (such as federal income tax withholding or estimated tax payments).
    2. You had earned income (such as wages, salaries, or self-employment income) and claimed the earned income credit or the additional child tax credit.
    3. You claimed a refundable tax credit, such as the health coverage tax credit or the refundable credit for prior year minimum tax.
Note. If your residence was in a community property state at any time during the year, you may file Form 8379 even if only item (1) above applies.

How To Get Tax Help(p21)

You can get help with unresolved tax issues, order free publications and forms, ask tax questions, and get information from the IRS in several ways. By selecting the method that is best for you, you will have quick and easy access to tax help.

Free help with your return.(p21)

Free help in preparing your return is available nationwide from IRS-certified volunteers. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is designed to help low-moderate income taxpayers and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program is designed to assist taxpayers age 60 and older with their tax returns. Most VITA and TCE sites offer free electronic filing and all volunteers will let you know about credits and deductions you may be entitled to claim. To find the nearest VITA or TCE site, visit or call 1-800-906-9887 or 1-800-829-1040.
As part of the TCE program, AARP offers the Tax-Aide counseling program. To find the nearest AARP Tax-Aide site, call 1-888-227-7669 or visit AARP's website at
For more information on these programs, go to and enter keyword "VITA" in the upper right-hand corner.
Internet. You can access the IRS website at 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to:
  • E-file your return. Find out about commercial tax preparation and e-file services available free to eligible taxpayers.
  • Check the status of your 2011 refund. Go to and click on Where's My Refund. Wait at least 72 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of your e-filed return, or 3 to 4 weeks after mailing a paper return. If you filed Form 8379 with your return, wait 14 weeks (11 weeks if you filed electronically). Have your 2011 tax return available so you can provide your social security number, your filing status, and the exact whole dollar amount of your refund.
  • Download forms, including talking tax forms, instructions, and publications.
  • Order IRS products online.
  • Research your tax questions online.
  • Search publications online by topic or keyword.
  • Use the online Internal Revenue Code, regulations, or other official guidance.
  • View Internal Revenue Bulletins (IRBs) published in the last few years.
  • Figure your withholding allowances using the withholding calculator online at
  • Determine if Form 6251 must be filed by using our Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Assistant available online at
  • Sign up to receive local and national tax news by email.
  • Get information on starting and operating a small business.
Phone. Many services are available by phone.  
  • Ordering forms, instructions, and publications. Call 1-800-TAX -FORM (1-800-829-3676) to order current-year forms, instructions, and publications, and prior-year forms and instructions. You should receive your order within 10 days.
  • Asking tax questions. Call the IRS with your tax questions at 1-800-829-1040.
  • Solving problems. You can get face-to-face help solving tax problems every business day in IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers. An employee can explain IRS letters, request adjustments to your account, or help you set up a payment plan. Call your local Taxpayer Assistance Center for an appointment. To find the number, go to or look in the phone book under United States Government, Internal Revenue Service.
  • TTY/TDD equipment. If you have access to TTY/TDD equipment, call 1-800-829-4059 to ask tax questions or to order forms and publications.
  • TeleTax topics. Call 1-800-829-4477 to listen to pre-recorded messages covering various tax topics.
  • Refund information. To check the status of your 2011 refund, call 1-800-829-1954 or 1-800-829-4477 (automated refund information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Wait at least 72 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of your e-filed return, or 3 to 4 weeks after mailing a paper return. If you filed Form 8379 with your return, wait 14 weeks (11 weeks if you filed electronically). Have your 2011 tax return available so you can provide your social security number, your filing status, and the exact whole dollar amount of your refund. If you check the status of your refund and are not given the date it will be issued, please wait until the next week before checking back.
  • Other refund information. To check the status of a prior-year refund or amended return refund, call 1-800-829-1040.
Evaluating the quality of our telephone services. To ensure IRS representatives give accurate, courteous, and professional answers, we use several methods to evaluate the quality of our telephone services. One method is for a second IRS representative to listen in on or record random telephone calls. Another is to ask some callers to complete a short survey at the end of the call.
Walk In
Walk-in. Many products and services are available on a walk-in basis. 
  • Products. You can walk in to many post offices, libraries, and IRS offices to pick up certain forms, instructions, and publications. Some IRS offices, libraries, grocery stores, copy centers, city and county government offices, credit unions, and office supply stores have a collection of products available to print from a CD or photocopy from reproducible proofs. Also, some IRS offices and libraries have the Internal Revenue Code, regulations, Internal Revenue Bulletins, and Cumulative Bulletins available for research purposes.
  • Services. You can walk in to your local Taxpayer Assistance Center every business day for personal, face-to-face tax help. An employee can explain IRS letters, request adjustments to your tax account, or help you set up a payment plan. If you need to resolve a tax problem, have questions about how the tax law applies to your individual tax return, or you are more comfortable talking with someone in person, visit your local Taxpayer Assistance Center where you can spread out your records and talk with an IRS representative face-to-face. No appointment is necessary—just walk in. If you prefer, you can call your local Center and leave a message requesting an appointment to resolve a tax account issue. A representative will call you back within 2 business days to schedule an in-person appointment at your convenience. If you have an ongoing, complex tax account problem or a special need, such as a disability, an appointment can be requested. All other issues will be handled without an appointment. To find the number of your local office, go to or look in the phone book under United States Government, Internal Revenue Service.
Due date
Mail. You can send your order for forms, instructions, and publications to the address below. You should receive a response within 10 days after your request is received.

Internal Revenue Service 
1201 N. Mitsubishi Motorway 
Bloomington, IL 61705-6613


Taxpayer Advocate Service.(p22)

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is your voice at the IRS. Our job is to ensure that every taxpayer is treated fairly, and that you know and understand your rights. We offer free help to guide you through the often-confusing process of resolving tax problems that you haven’t been able to solve on your own. Remember, the worst thing you can do is nothing at all.
TAS can help if you can’t resolve your problem with the IRS and:
If you qualify for our help, we’ll do everything we can to get your problem resolved. You will be assigned to one advocate who will be with you at every turn. We have offices in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Although TAS is independent within the IRS, our advocates know how to work with the IRS to get your problems resolved. And our services are always free.
As a taxpayer, you have rights that the IRS must abide by in its dealings with you. Our tax toolkit at can help you understand these rights.
If you think TAS might be able to help you, call your local advocate, whose number is in your phone book and on our website at You can also call our toll-free number at 1-877-777-4778 or TTY/TDD 1-800-829-4059.
TAS also handles large-scale or systemic problems that affect many taxpayers. If you know of one of these broad issues, please report it to us through our Systemic Advocacy Management System at
Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs).(p22)
Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) are independent from the IRS. Some clinics serve individuals whose income is below a certain level and who need to resolve a tax problem. These clinics provide professional representation before the IRS or in court on audits, appeals, tax collection disputes, and other issues for free or for a small fee. Some clinics can provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in many different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language. For more information and to find a clinic near you, see the LITC page on or IRS Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List. This publication is also available by calling 1-800-829-3676 or at your local IRS office.

Free tax services.(p22)

Publication 910, IRS Guide to Free Tax Services, is your guide to IRS services and resources. Learn about free tax information from the IRS, including publications, services, and education and assistance programs. The publication also has an index of over 100 TeleTax topics (recorded tax information) you can listen to on the telephone. The majority of the information and services listed in this publication are available to you free of charge. If there is a fee associated with a resource or service, it is listed in the publication.
Accessible versions of IRS published products are available on request in a variety of alternative formats for people with disabilities.
DVD for tax products. You can order Publication 1796, IRS Tax Products DVD, and obtain:
  • Current-year forms, instructions, and publications.
  • Prior-year forms, instructions, and publications.
  • Tax Map: an electronic research tool and finding aid.
  • Tax law frequently asked questions.
  • Tax Topics from the IRS telephone response system.
  • Internal Revenue Code—Title 26 of the U.S. Code.
  • Links to other Internet based Tax Research Materials.
  • Fill-in, print, and save features for most tax forms.
  • Internal Revenue Bulletins.
  • Toll-free and email technical support.
  • Two releases during the year. 
    – The first release will ship the beginning of January 2012. 
    – The final release will ship the beginning of March 2012.
Purchase the DVD from National Technical Information Service (NTIS) at for $30 (no handling fee) or call 1-877-233-6767 toll free to buy the DVD for $30 (plus a $6 handling fee).