Innocent Spouse relief is provided for under §6015 of the Internal Revenue Code. Innocent Spouse Relief provides for relief from the Joint and Severable liability that arises from filing in a Joint tax return. In plain English, what this means is that Innocent Spouse Relief, if granted, stops you from owing the IRS and stops the IRS from trying to collect those tax debts that you incurred while married. It does not stop the IRS from trying to collect those debts from your current or former partner who incurred them along with you.
Innocent Spouse relief was created to address the sometimes-inequitable situation when one spouse fraudulently avoided paying taxes and then other spouse getting stuck with consequences often because the former spouse is now penniless or that the spouse has since that time passed on. The most basic premise of innocent spouse relief is that “you aren’t aware that the tax should have been accessed or paid or that you believe you shouldn’t be held responsible for your partner’s act of omission”.
Now, functionally, there is quite a bit more nuance into how these claims work, especially if the spouse requesting the relief knew that the taxes weren’t being paid or reported correctly or they should have known that they weren’t being paid or reported correctly based on the evidence in their life at the time. Much of the nuance in an Innocent Spouse claim centers on the facts and circumstances that either contribute to reasonableness that the requesting spouse didn’t know there was an issue and also didn’t have the education or the access to information to figure out that something was up.
In addition, to the knowing factor we just discussed, there are also provisions that consider the requesting spouse’s ability to act regardless of their actual knowledge. While the standard is much higher in these cases, it is possible for example to be fully aware of a spouse’s crimes, do nothing about it, from an outsider’s perspective potentially fully enjoy the benefits of that misdirected tax money, and still have your liability relieved. This is an extreme example though. Most of the time, persons requesting innocent spouse relief who are aware of underpayment or under assessment issues, are granted relief because of varying levels of financial, emotional and/or physical abuse. Essentially, if you can prove that you were in fear of your safety or it’s reasonable to assume your safety might be in danger if you attempted to correct the situation, you have a good chance of being able to receive innocent spouse relief.
So, to recap, innocent spouse stops the IRS from trying to collect back taxes from you if your spouse cheated on their taxes and you either didn’t know or if you did know and your safety might have been compromised by attempting to report or fix the situation.