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If my spouse is incarcerated, should I file jointly or separately?

You can file as married filing jointly or married filing separately.

If you choose married filing separately:
• You’ll have limited liability and will get your entire refund due.
• You’ll be personally liable for only your own taxes due.
• You’ll be subject to a higher tax rate.
• Several credits will be unavailable to you.

If you choose married filing jointly:

  • Both you and your spouse are responsible for the joint taxes you might owe.
  • You have more credits and deductions available to you.

You might be able to request innocent spouse relief so you wouldn’t have to pay tax, interest, and penalties on your spouse's income. You should see a tax professional to discuss this option.

Since you’re married, you can’t file as head of household. However, you might be able to claim an exception and file as unmarried. Filing as unmarried requires that your spouse must be permanently absent from your house for the last 6 months of the year.

An absence due to incarceration is usually only temporary. This is true if there's a reasonable expectation the spouse will return. So, you wouldn’t qualify for the head of household status.

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