Married or Unmarried Tax Status? Here's How
You are considered unmarried for the whole year if either of the following two applied: (a) you have
obtained a final decree of divorce or separate maintenance by the last day of
the tax year; or (b) you obtained a decree of annulment.
You are married for the whole
year if you are separated from your spouse but have not obtained a final decree
of divorce or separate maintenance by the last day of the tax year. A pendente
lite (interlocutory) order does not
constitute a final divorce decree.
You Should File Jointly if You Can - But Not Always:
Until your divorce is granted
through the entry by the court of a final judgment of divorce or separate
maintenance, you are deemed married for tax purposes. In most situations, this is decidedly good
news, because it means that you and your spouse can still file jointly. You may file jointly even if one of you had
no income or deductions. There are significant advantages to filing joint returns
(even if you and your spouse are barely able to speak with one another). In virtually all situations, you will pay
more combined federal income tax if you file separately. There are a number of reasons for this. Filing jointly results in the lowest marginal
tax rates. Furthermore, if you were to
file separately, you would probably not be able to take credit for child and
dependent care expenses, your capital loss deduction is limited to $1,500 (not
$3,000); you would not be able to take the earned income credit; and your
exemption amount for the alternative minimum tax would be cut in half.
The Exception: If you doubt the accuracy of your soon-to-be former
spouse's tax return/reporting of income, you should seriously consider filing a
tax return under the status "married-filing separate" (MFS) to avoid your
potential exposure for any deficiencies.
If you are unsure, speak to your divorce attorney or accountant.
By: Marc A. Rapaport
Mr. Rapaport is a New York divorce lawyer. He is the founder of Rapaport Law Firm in New York City