When you marry, you get more options to choose from for filing your tax return. You can still file separately, but many couples file jointly. Meet a few additional requirements and you may file as head of household. If you do file as head of household that changes the rules about filing separate returns.
Head of Household Status
To qualify for head of household status, the Internal Revenue Service requires you to pay more than half of the cost of maintaining your house during the year. You cannot rely on another person to cover the majority of your mortgage or rent payments, for example. The cost of a home also includes the cost of food consumed at the house, utilities and property taxes, according to the IRS. A dependent person needs to live in the house with you for more than half of the year. The dependent needs to be a blood relative, or be an adopted or foster child. If the dependent is your parent, you can claim head of household, even if your parent doesn't live with you.
To file as the head of household you usually must never have been married or be divorced, but married people are eligible if the IRS considers you unmarried. This applies if your spouse hasn't lived in the same house with you during the last six months of the year. For you to claim head of household, you must file separate returns.
When married couples file separate returns, both spouses typically must claim the standard deduction or both must itemize. If the couple is considered unmarried in the eyes of the IRS and one person claims head of household, the rule does not apply. You can claim head of household and itemize your deductions while your spouse takes the standard deduction. The reverse is also true; you can claim the standard deduction filing as head of household and your spouse can itemize deductions.
If you marry a nonresident alien -- someone who does not live in the United States and is not a citizen -- you can choose to file as head of household, even though you are married and live together. You must still meet the other requirements for head of household status, including caring for a dependent person and paying the majority of the cost of maintaining your home. If your nonresident spouse has any income from the United States and needs to file taxes, the appropriate IRS form to file is the 1040NR, which typically requires itemizing deductions, not claiming a standard deduction.
- Internal Revenue Service: Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information: Head of Household
- Internal Revenue Service: Publication 501: Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Status: Filing Status
- Internal Revenue Service: Publication 504: Divorced and Separated Individuals (PDF)
- Internal Revenue Service: Tax Topic 851: Resident and Non-Resident Aliens
Based in Pennsylvania, Emily Weller has been writing professionally since 2007, when she began writing theater reviews Off-Off Broadway productions. Since then, she has written for TheNest, ModernMom and Rhode Island Home and Design magazine, among others. Weller attended CUNY/Brooklyn college and Temple University.