My husband and I are separated. How do we file our taxes?


Q. My husband and I have been separated for almost a year and our divorce won’t be final until 2020. How are we supposed to handle our 2019 tax returns? We have always filed together.
— Divorcing

A. It’s all about the timing.

Because there won’t be a final decree of divorce by the end of the year, you are still considered married even if you are separated, said Gail Rosen, a Martinsville-based certified public accountant.

“You therefore must file either a joint return or as a married individual filing separately,” she said.

However, a special rule permits you to be treated as unmarried with the “single” or “head of household” filing status if:

  • You don’t file a joint return for the year;
  • You maintain as your home a household which for more than half the year, is the principal residence of a child;
  • You furnish more than half of the cost of maintaining that household; and
  • During the last six months of the year, your spouse isn’t a member of that household.

Rosen said the tax rates for married persons filing separately are less favorable than the tax rates for married filing jointly.

“Note though, if you do file jointly, both spouses are generally liable for the tax,” Rosen said. “This means that if the IRS audits the return and determines a deficiency, you could be liable for all the additional tax, interest and penalties even if the problems with the return related to your ex-spouse.”

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This story was originally published on Dec. 23. 2019. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.