What Happens If You Marry Someone Who Owes Back Taxes? (Are You Liable?)

Getting married is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. It is sold as a fairy tale, and something that a lot of people dream of when they are young.

But, when you are told of weddings as a young child, you only hear about tailored suits and big puffy wedding dresses, you are not told about all the financial and legal things that come along with it. 

When you decide to marry someone, it is important that you do not let yourself get too caught up in the romance.

What Happens If You Marry Someone Who Owes Back Taxes? (Are You Liable?)

There are a lot of financial things that you have to consider before you get married, because as soon as you say those vows, and sign those legal documents, you and your partner become tied together, both legally and financially. 

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t marry someone, simply because they have a bad financial history, but it is still something that you should think about before you get hitched.

In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at what happens if you get married to someone who owes back taxes. So to find out more, keep on reading. 

Am I Liable For My Spouse’s Back Taxes?

First things first, let’s take a look at whether, or not, you are liable for your spouse’s back taxes. In short, there is no easy yes or no answer to this question, whether you are responsible for your spouse’s back taxes, or not, will depend on your situation.

So, you might be held responsible, but you also might not. 

Whether, or not, you will be liable for your spouse’s back taxes will depend on whether that debt is entirely your partners, or if it is shared. This isn’t as simple as looking at who failed to pay their taxes, that is because other factors will impact who is liable for the debt.

This will include things such as whether you filed jointly, or independently, and if you were married when the debts occurred. 

In order to determine whether you are responsible for your spouse’s back taxes or not, we will need to take a further look at these factors. 

What Happens If I Marry Someone Who Owes Back Taxes?

One of the biggest influences on liability for your spouse’s back taxes will be your marital status at the time that the debts occurred. Your responsibility for these debts should be considered at 3 different times: 

  • Debts incurred prior to marriage.
  • Debts incurred during marriage.
  • Debts incurred after marriage. 

If the IRS is chasing your spouse for debts that are owed from before you were married, then you are not liable for these back taxes. These debts incurred during a time when you were not legally tied to your spouse, and so you cannot be held responsible for them, those debts belong entirely to your spouse.

But, you could be dragged into being liable for these debts if your partner files jointly with you during your marriage (without repaying these debts), then the IRS could argue that you are liable.

If they do this, they could intercept your tax return to pay off these debts. If this happens, you can apply for something known as Injured Spouse Status, and the tax return will be returned to you. 

Alternatively, if your spouse accrues debts through not paying taxes during the time that you are married, these debts will fall onto you.

Assuming that you file jointly. In joint taxes, the IRS will not be able to differentiate between you and your spouse, so you will both be held responsible for the back taxes. 

Finally, if your spouse accrues debts through back taxes after you have separated, you could be held responsible for these debts. This will depend entirely on the way in which you separated.

If you are legally divorced, then you will not be held responsible, as long as the debt was not accrued during the time you were married. If you have simply separated (and are legally still married), then you could be held liable. 

What Happens If Me And My Spouse File Separately?

Aside from marital status, there is only really one other thing that will impact your liability for your partner’s failure to pay their taxes, and that is whether you filed separately or jointly. If you filed separately, then that is a good thing. 

The official term for this is “married, filing separately”, and if you do this, then you are only responsible for your taxes. Likewise, your spouse will only be responsible for their taxes.

However, this is about the only benefit that you get from filing separate returns. If you file jointly, you will be eligible for all sorts of tax breaks, but you could be held liable for your partner’s taxes, should they fail to pay them. 

So, essentially, if you and your partner file separately, and have always done this, then the IRS cannot hold you responsible for your spouse’s back taxes. 

What Happens If Me And My Spouse File Jointly?

Most of the time, married couples choose to file their taxes jointly because of the tax breaks that come with it. But, if you do this, there is a much greater risk that you could be held liable for your spouse’s back taxes. 

The tax breaks mean that you will ultimately end up paying less taxes. But, filing jointly means that you and your spouse are both liable for those taxes. So, any failure to pay the full amount owed will fall on both of your shoulders.

This means that the IRS can come after both you and your spouse to reclaim the money owed. So, you might find your own assets (including vehicles, properties, bank accounts, etc.) having a lien placed on them if you or your spouse fail to pay your taxes. 

So, if you and your partner file jointly, and your partner owes back taxes, then you will both be held liable for those unpaid taxes. 

Summary

In short, whether, or not, you are responsible for your spouse’s back taxes will depend on a number of factors. These include your marital status at the time the debts occurred, and the way in which you filed your taxes.

To find out if you could be held liable for your spouse’s back taxes, check out the guide above.

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