Can Two People Not Married File Taxes Together?

by Tom Streissguth, Demand Media
    In most cases, the IRS requires a legally married status for joint filers.

    In most cases, the IRS requires a legally married status for joint filers.

    When you file your annual tax return, you must indicate your filing status to the Internal Revenue Service. Tax rates vary with marital status; those who file as single generally pay a higher rate of income tax than those who file a joint return as a married couple. The IRS has strict guidelines on who may claim married status.

    Filing Status Date

    Your marital status on the last day of the tax year determines your filing status. If you were single Dec. 30 but were legally married Dec. 31, your status for the entire year would be married. Married couples have the option to file separate or joint returns, but a single person can't file a joint return with another single person.

    Divorced or Separated

    Anyone who is legally divorced on the last day of the tax year must file as a single person. This also applies to anyone who is legally separated by the laws of the state where they live, though not all states offer legal separation. Simply living apart does not signify legally separated; this status must be the result of a civil court action. The IRS doesn't recognize an interlocutory separation, meaning a temporary order of separation in a pending divorce action.

    Death of Spouse

    If your spouse died during the year, the IRS will still allow you to file a return as a married person, filing jointly with the deceased. You would also have the option to file as a single person, or -- if you have a dependent -- as a qualifying widow(er) with dependent child.

    Common-Law and Same-Sex Marriages

    Some states recognize common-law marriages, meaning a man and woman have lived together long enough to enjoy the legal benefits of married status. For residents of those states, the IRS allows common-law couples to file as married with a joint return. Same-sex couples may not file joint returns in any state, as the federal tax code does not recognize the legality of same-sex marriages.

    About the Author

    Tom Streissguth has authored more than 100 books for the school and library market, including works for the Gale, Enslow, Facts on File and Lerner Publications. He is the founder of The Archive, an independent publisher of historical journalism collections, and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University.

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