Federal income tax significant events, Part 2 – Marriage, divorce

This blog is the second in a continuing series on major life events that can have a big impact on your federal income tax return when it is filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Additional information about the points covered in this article is available on the IRS’s web site.


For starters, it is common in marriage for the lady to change her last name.  Your name change needs to be filed with the Social Security Administration, to be sure your new name on your tax return matches the name the Social Security Administration has for you.  If the names do not match, it can create legal issues, as the IRS may be unable to process your federal income tax return, possibly resulting in penalties and interest.

When you are married, you gain some additional tax filing statuses that you can use as opposed to the filing statuses available to an individual.  These additional filing statuses include the following:

Married Filing Jointly.  This filing status is used when you and your spouse decide to file a single return.  You and your spouse would include both of your incomes and allowable expenses on this one return.

Married Filing Jointly can result in lower tax paid for many people as compared to if the individuals choose to file separate returns.

Married Filing Separately.  Even if you are married and can qualify to file your returns as Married Filing Jointly, you can choose to use a Married Filing Separately status.  Married Filing Separately generally results in married couples paying more total tax than if they filed as Married Filing Jointly, but it is wise to calculate the tax due under both statuses to determine which results in the lowest tax paid.

In addition, while Head of Household is a filing status that is available to some individuals, it can also be an option in certain situations when you are married.  Head of Household usually results in lower tax paid than when you choose to file your taxes as Married Filing Separately.

Additional information about filing your federal income tax return if you are married is available on the IRS’s web site.

Divorce and separation

When you receive a divorce or legal separation, it can affect your filing status and you must treat the various payments such as alimony and any property transfers related to the divorce or separation in the correct manner from a tax perspective.

In summary, if you are divorced or legally separated by the last day of the year, you are considered single for the entire year from a federal income tax standpoint.  However, keep in mind that for any joint tax returns filed before you received your divorce or legal separation, you are still liable for any tax, interest, or penalties due to the IRS.

If you receive an annulment of your marriage by the last day of the year, you are likewise considered unmarried from a federal income tax standpoint.  However, you need to file amended tax returns for the previous three tax years, changing any returns filed as though you were married into returns with a single status, since an annulment effectively makes the marriage as though it never existed.

Additional information about filing your federal income tax return if you are divorced or separated is available on the IRS’s web site.

If you have additional questions about the correct or best filing status you should use, you should speak to a tax attorney who is familiar with the federal and state tax laws that apply to you.

by Mark Johnston

Mark has been a contributor to legal web sites related to bankruptcy, tax, and criminal law since 2011. He has an Accounting degree from Texas A&M University.