Tax-Time Marital Status

When it comes to filing your tax return, you need to be clear about your marital status, which is dependent on your legal definition as of December 31st. It doesn’t matter when you got married, or if you are divorced or separated, when the decree of separation was effective, as you will be considered either married or unmarried for the entire year based on your status on the final day of the year. If you are divorced or separated, you will file your tax return using the Single status, unless your eligible for the Head of Household status, in which you would have a qualifying dependent child or parent.

The IRS considers you married even if you are living separately from your spouse on December 31st, or do not have a legalized separation decree. The only way you can file unmarried is if you meet the requirements to use the Head of Household status, as you care for a child. Otherwise, you’ll have to file as married, either jointly or separately from your spouse. Remember, if you file separately, both you and your spouse have to use the same deduction option – either standard or itemized.

If common law marriage is legal in your state of residence, and you and your partner meet the criteria, then you are considered married by the IRS. Spouses who become deceased during the tax year are still liable as married for the entire tax year. It doesn’t matter when your spouse passed away. You should file a joint return for the year in which the spouse died, provided you haven’t remarried by the end of December.