Your filing status for federal income tax purposes depends on your marital status under state law on the last day of the calendar year – December 31.
If, as of December 31, you are legally separated under a final decree of separate maintenance, or a final divorce decree has been issued, then you are no longer married and must file single. You may, however, qualify for head of household filing status if you live with one or more children and pay more than half the household costs.
If, as of December 31, there has been no final divorce decree, annulment or separate maintenance, then you are still considered married even if you are separated from your spouse under a separation agreement or a non-final court decree. Therefore, you must file either married filing joint or married filing separately. However, a special rule permits you to be treated as unmarried for filing status if:
- You don’t file a joint return for the year;
- You maintain as your home a household which, for more than half the year, is the principal residence of a child;
- You furnish more than half of the cost of maintaining that household; and
- During the last six months of the year, your spouse isn’t a member of that household.
Reasons to file MFS
If you are treated as married, you may want to file separately even though the tax rates are higher. This is because both spouses are generally liable for the tax if a joint return is filed. If the IRS audits the return and determines a deficiency, you could be liable for all the additional tax, interest and penalties even if the problems with the return related to your ex-spouse. Also, if you made deductible alimony payments, you must file a separate return to claim the deduction.