IRS- Innocent Spouse Relief

December 8, 2021 - 3 minutes read

Many married taxpayers choose to file a joint tax return because of certain benefits this filing allows them. When filing jointly, both taxpayers are jointly and severally liable for the tax and any additions to tax, interest, or penalties that arise from the joint return, even if they later divorce. Joint and several liability means that each taxpayer is legally responsible for the entire liability. Thus, both spouses on a married filing joint return are generally held responsible for all the tax due even if one spouse earned all the income or claimed improper deductions or credits. This is also true even if a divorce decree states that a former spouse will be responsible for any amounts due on previously filed joint returns. In some cases, however, a spouse can get relief from being jointly and severally liable.

Types of Relief

There are three types of relief from the joint and several liability of a joint return:

  1. Innocent Spouse Relief provides you relief from additional tax you owe if y our spouse or former spouse failed to report income, reported income improperly or claimed improper deductions or credits.
  2. Separation of Liability Relief provides for the separate allocation of additional tax owed between you and your former spouse or your current spouse you’re legally separated from or not living with, when an item wasn’t reported properly on a joint return. You’re then responsible for the amount of tax allocated to you.  Refunds aren’t available under separation of liability relief.
  3. Equitable Relief may apply when you don’t qualify for innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief for something not reported properly on a joint return and generally attributable to your spouse. You may also qualify for equitable relief if the amount of tax reported is correct on your joint return but the tax wasn’t paid with the return.

You must request innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief no later than 2 years after the date the IRS first attempted to collect the tax from you. For equitable relief, you must request relief during the period of time the IRS can collect the tax from you. If you’re looking for a refund of tax you paid, then you must request it within the statutory period for seeking a refund, which is generally three years after the date the return is filed or two years following the payment of the tax, whichever is later. See Publication 971, Innocent Spouse Relief for additional restrictions on refunds available under innocent spouse relief, equitable relief, and relief based on community property laws.

For more information on how we can help your specific situation, please call our office at 615-385-0686, or email Shayna at

Source:  Topic No. 205 Innocent Spouse Relief (Including Separation of Liability and Equitable Relief) Internal Revenue Service 6/26/2021