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Ronald Cutler, P.A. Ronald Cutler P.A.
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Tax Relief For Spouses Via Separation Of Liability


There is nothing more frustrating for a person than to find out that he or she owes a tax debt that was actually accrued by a former partner. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid having to pay debts for which a spouse was responsible, so if you are disputing a tax debt, you should consider reaching out to an experienced Florida tax & IRS attorney for help.

What is Separation of Liability?

Separation of liability is a kind of relief that is available to those whose spouses understated taxes and accrued a debt to the IRS. When granted, separation of liability relief basically allows taxpayers to separate the underpayment of taxes, as well as any interest and penalties, on a joint return between themselves and a spouse or former spouse. Typically, the understatement of tax that is allocated to the taxpayer who is requesting relief will only be equal to the amount for which he or she was actually responsible.

Qualifying for Separation of Liability Relief

To be eligible for separation of liability relief, a taxpayer must have filed a joint return with a partner and:

  • Be divorced or legally separated from that partner;
  • Be widowed; or
  • Be able to demonstrate that he or she hasn’t shared a household with the partner with whom the joint return was filed during the previous 12 months.

A person who satisfies these eligibility requirements will then need to prove that he or she never had any actual knowledge of the item that caused the understatement in question.

Proving a Lack of Actual Knowledge

To establish a lack of knowledge regarding an erroneous item on a tax return and so qualify for relief, a taxpayer cannot have:

  • Known that an item of unreported income was received;
  • Known of the facts that made an incorrect credit or deduction impermissible; or
  • Known about a false or inflated deduction.

In making these determinations, the IRS may also assess whether the petitioner deliberately avoided learning about the item to protect him or herself from liability and whether the two parties jointly owned the property resulting in the erroneous claim. Fortunately, even if a taxpayer is found to have had actual knowledge of a portion of an erroneous item, the IRS could still grant relief for the other part of the debt. There is also a domestic violence exception to the actual knowledge requirement, in which a petitioner can still qualify for separation of liability relief. To be eligible for this exception, a petitioner must have been the victim of domestic abuse prior to signing the return, or be able to demonstrate that he or she didn’t challenge the return due to a fear of a spouse’s retaliation.

Reach Out to an Experienced Tax Lawyer for Help

To set up a meeting with a dedicated Florida tax attorney who can address your questions and concerns about a spouse’s tax debt, please call Ronald Cutler, P.A., at 386-490-9949. Initial consultations are conducted one-on-one and offered free of charge, so don’t hesitate to call or contact us online to schedule a case review today.


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