Can a Person Who Is Married Filing Separate File as a Head of Household for Federal Taxes?

Individual taxpayers file their income taxes using IRS Form 1040.

Individual taxpayers file their income taxes using IRS Form 1040.

Internal Revenue Service regulations and federal tax law requires taxpayers to file their federal income tax returns by the end of April 15 of each year, with an extension to the next business day during years when the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday. Marital status is an important factor in determining whether the taxpayer can file as married filing separately or as head of household. A person who is considered married may not file as head of household.

Filing Status

There are five filing statuses the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recognizes for individual taxpayers. You may file as single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household or qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. Your status as of the last day of the tax year determines your filing status for the entire tax year. It is important to get your filing status right, because filing status is used to determine your standard deduction, which is the amount of money you can earn without incurring an income tax liability.

Considered Married

Married taxpayers have the option of using the married filing jointly or married filing separately filing status, but both spouses must use the same filing status. For federal income tax purposes you are considered married for the entire tax year if you were married on the last day of the tax year. You are considered to be married for federal income tax purposes if you are legally married or are living together in a common law marriage according to the laws of the state in which you live. You are considered married even if you are not living together but there is no legal separation, final divorce decree or decree of separate maintenance. You are considered to be married for the entire year if your spouse dies during the tax year.

Considered Unmarried

An individual who is unmarried on the last day of the tax year is considered unmarried for the entire tax year. You are considered unmarried if you have never been married, if your spouse has died in a previous tax year, if you have received a final divorce decree, if you are legally separated or if the court issues a decree of annulment. Unmarried taxpayers who do not have a qualifying child may only file their taxes under the single filing status. Unmarried taxpayers who have a qualifying child may file as head of household or as a qualifying widow or widower with dependent child.

Head of Household

You must be unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the tax year to file your federal income taxes under the head of household status. According to IRS Publication 501, you may qualify to file as head of household if you have a qualifying child who you can claim as an exemption. You must have paid more than 50 percent of the upkeep on your home for the tax year and your spouse must not not live in the home for the final six months of the tax year.


About the Author

After attending Hardin Simmons University, Kay Dean finished her formal education with the Institute of Children's Literature. Since 1995, Dean has written for such publications as "PB&J," Disney’s "Family Fun," "ParentLife," "Living With Teenagers" and Thomas Nelson’s NY Times bestselling "Resolve." An avid gardener for 25 years, her experience includes organic food gardening, ornamental plants, shrubs and trees, with a special love for roses.

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