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How to handle taxes during separation and divorce

If your marriage officially ended in 2011, even if the divorce decree came at the end of the year you may no longer file tax returns as a married person. According to the Internal Revenue Service, an individual's tax filing status is directly linked to marital status.

Whatever marital status a person had on December 31, 2011, is the status used for filing income taxes for the entire 2011 tax year. The tax-filing situation gets confusing when married couples in Texas and elsewhere enter the relationship limbo of separation.

Whether spouses' tax statuses are considered married during separation depends on state laws. The IRS defers to states on the matter of marital and tax filing status since laws among states differ. The IRS views couples with divorce and legal separate maintenance decrees -- not informal separation arrangements -- as unmarried individuals. Some states have no separate maintenance decrees. In those states, including Texas, a separated couple's status remains "married" until a divorce is finalized.

The tax-filing options for married or some legally separated taxpayers are either "married filing jointly" or "married filing separately." Legal and financial experts caution separated joint filers to be aware of the consequences.

The downside for a couple heading toward divorce is that joint married filers are equally responsible for a tax burden. If taxes are underpaid or owed in a joint return, both spouses are held liable for payment.

When signing a joint return appears more advantageous than filing as separate, married individuals, experts advise divorcing spouses to get a professional opinion. Indemnification agreements arranged through a competent attorney can limit how much tax burden a spouse must share.

Source: Forbes, "Tax Tips for Women Going Through Divorce," Jeff Landers, Mar. 7, 2012

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