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Post Date:  8/7/2017
Last Updated:  8/7/2017

Summary
Cross References
- Edwards, T.C. Summary Opinion 2017-52, July 17, 2017

What determines if a return is Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately? The simple answer is when two individuals are married on the last day of the year and both sign the return, it is a joint return. However, as a recent court case illustrates, sometimes the answer is not that simple.

The taxpayer was legally married to his wife on the last day of 2013. The couple had two minor children. The taxpayer had filed a petition for divorce in June 2013, but the divorce had not yet been finalized as of the end of 2013. On February 8, 2014, the wife sent a text message to the taxpayer proposing to file a joint federal income tax return for 2013 and to split the resulting refund. They agreed to discuss the possibility of filing a joint return later that evening.

On February 12, 2014, the taxpayer filed a joint federal income tax return with his wife. The return was prepared by a tax return preparer who had previously prepared returns for the couple. Although the tax return preparer was their longtime preparer, the wife had never personally met with or spoken to this preparer. The usual course of conduct was for the taxpayer to give copies of all tax information to the preparer, who in turn would prepare the couple's return. The wife had never thoroughly reviewed the couple's tax returns before they were submitted. Instead, she would simply sign an authorization for the return to be submitted on her behalf. For 2013, the wife provided no signed authorization for the return to be submitted.

Author's Comment: The court record does not say, but presumably, the tax preparer would have the couple sign an e-file authorization form and then e-file the return based on that authorization. For some reason not mentioned, for 2013, the tax return was filed even though the wife did not sign an authorization for it to be filed. Nor did the wife receive a copy of the joint return that was filed.

The IRS processed the joint return and issued a refund check, which the taxpayer cashed. During their marriage, the couple had separate bank accounts but jointly shared responsibility for certain household expenses. The taxpayer felt that his wife owed him money because she had not paid her share of these expenses, so he kept the tax refund for himself.

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