Question

My spouse and I are separated, but not divorced. What filing status do we use for filing taxes when separated but married?

Answer

You should file either:

  • Married filing jointly (MFJ)
  • Married filing separately (MFS)

If you’re married filing separately, you’ll probably lose some tax benefits. Many tax benefits are available only to couples who use married filing jointly.

However, if you’re married filing jointly, both you and your spouse have joint and several liability.

This means:

  • Both of you are responsible for the taxes and interest or penalties due on the return.
  • You’d both be responsible for any underpayment of tax that might be due later.
  • If one spouse doesn’t pay the tax due, the other might have to.

If you decide to file separately, one of you might be eligible for head of household status. Head of household filing status applies to you when both of these are true:

  • Your spouse didn’t live in your home during the last six months of the year. (Your spouse is considered to have lived in your home even if he or she is temporarily absent but expected to live there at some point in the future.)
  • You paid more than half the costs of keeping up your home for the year.
  • Your home was your main residence for more than half the year, and you’re able to claim the exemption for either:
    • Your child
    • Your stepchild
    • Your foster child

You’ll still meet this test if you can’t claim the exemption only because the noncustodial parent can claim the child under the rules for divorced or separated parents.

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