Your marital status can make a big difference at tax time. Although it doesn't affect your standard deduction – the deduction for married couples filing jointly is exactly double that of single taxpayers – filing a joint married return can still save you money. This is particularly true if you or your spouse earns a great deal more than the other. Joining your incomes together on one tax return can lower the tax bracket of the spouse who earns more and save tax dollars.
Date of Marriage
The Internal Revenue Service is very lenient about determining if you're considered married for the entire tax year. The cutoff date is December 31. If you get married on New Year's Eve, you can file a joint married return – as long as you say "I do" before midnight. There's a flip side to this rule, however. If you marry in January, you must still be married on December 31 to file jointly. If you're living apart but you don't have a court order legally separating you – such as a divorce judgment or a decree for separate maintenance – that's OK. Court orders pending the outcome of your divorce don't bar you from filing jointly either, provided they're not final.
Death of One Spouse
If your spouse dies during the tax year, you can still file a joint married return with him. Even if he dies in January, you're considered married for the entire year, as long as you don't remarry before December 31. In that case, you could file jointly with your new spouse, and you – or the executor of your first spouse's estate – would have to file a return for him as married but filing separately.
The IRS recognizes common-law marriages, as long as your state does. A common-law marriage lacks the official stamp of exchanging vows, but the couple lives together as husband and wife and presents themselves to others as a married couple. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia recognize common-law marriages, so if you began a common-law marriage in one of these jurisdictions, or if you currently live in one of them and qualify for a common-law marriage, the IRS considers you married, and you can file jointly.
Effect of Annulment
If you have your marriage annulled, this is a legal way of saying it never happened in the first place. Unlike a divorce, which terminates the marriage, an annulment essentially erases it. If you filed a joint married tax return while you're married, then later have the marriage annulled, the IRS requires that you amend your tax return. On your amended return, you must file as either single or head of household, depending on your personal circumstances. To file as head of household, you must have a dependent, such as a child.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.