How Do We File for Taxes if We're Separated but Still Married?

So, you're taking a break from each other. In other words, you're separated from your spouse.

Then April rolls around and (if you're anything like me) you start thinking about filing taxes for the first time. And then the question comes: how do we file for taxes if we're not living together?

Great question. You have a couple options.

Options

First, you can file "married filing jointly." This is what the vast majority of married couples do because it usually minimizes taxes and maximizes any returns you'll receive.

Second, you can file "married filing separately." This is the least popular option because you usually don't get the same tax breaks as married filing jointly.

But, there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes, one spouse runs up a huge tax debt during the year (for example, he takes too many deductions and has to pay the tax piper), and filing jointly will make the other spouse responsible for that payment.

Rule of Thumb

If there is a general rule-of-thumb of filing when separated, it's this: file jointly.

CPAs

That said, what you really should do is take your taxes to a CPA (accountant) and let the CPA tell you what your best options are. A good CPA will let you know what your taxes will look like under a number of scenarios. It will cost you some money, but it's better to spend money on an expert than to make the wrong tax choice.

And Don't Forget

If you get a tax return, don't forget to have it split between the two of you. I can't tell you how many times someone told me they prepared taxes while separated and the other spouse kept the entire return. If that happens, you usually won't see that money again.

Make sure any return is split between the two of you (i.e., two checks are cut and sent to each of you separately), or that the return is placed in a joint account. When the return hits the joint account, take half (unless you've agreed otherwise). You'll never get in trouble for taking half of marital money.

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