Can You File a Tax Return Amended From Joint to Separate?

In most cases, the IRS won't allow you and your spouse to go your separate ways with taxes.

In most cases, the IRS won't allow you and your spouse to go your separate ways with taxes.

It's a taxpayer's prerogative to change her mind -- sometimes. The Internal Revenue Service allows you to correct or amend your tax return, but it sets a deadline for any changes you want to make. You can file an amended return to correct your income, deductions, exemptions and credits, as well as your filing status, with an important exception if you originally filed as "married, joint."

Amended Return Deadlines

The IRS deadline on amended returns filed on Form 1040X is three years from the original due date, including extensions. If you filed on April 15, the 1040X for the year must be filed by April 15 of the third year after that date. If your extension changed your due date to Oct. 15 -- which is the maximum extension allowed -- your amended deadline is Oct. 15 of the third year. If you filed before Oct. 15, the date on which you filed sets the three-year clock ticking.

Filing Status

If you're married, you may file either joint or separate returns. Important differences exist: With a joint return, both spouses are responsible for the total tax; a separate return allows one spouse to be solely responsible for his own tax liability. But separate returns don't allow some important deductions and credits, such as the child tax credit. Married, separate returns incur a higher tax rate and usually result in a higher tax liability overall than if the couple had filed a joint return.

Changing Filing Status

You can use the 1040X to change your filing status from married, filing separately to married, filing joint. This would allow you to claim several tax breaks that only joint filers can claim, including a lower tax rate on the total taxable income. You can also refile a tax return with a different filing status before the deadline of April 15. However, once you file a married, joint return, you can't amend the return to change your filing status to married, separate.

Innocent Spouse Relief

The IRS wants to avoid the situation in which one spouse escapes the joint tax liability by filing Form 1040X to claim married, separate status -- for example, in the case of a death or a divorce. Once the joint return is in, both spouses are responsible for the taxes, up to the statute of limitations on federal tax debt of 10 years. However, if one spouse has been made unfairly responsible for tax debts of the other, she can claim "innocent tax relief" with an explanation of the circumstances. The IRS may grant the claim if there are undisclosed assets, gambling winnings, business income or tax liability for which the spouse should not be held liable.


About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

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