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My Spouse Owes the IRS, How Do I Protect Myself?

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Are you ready to ring your spouses neck because they still haven't taken care of that "little tax problem" they told you they have? You know sooner or later it will catch up with them but they don't seem to have any sense of urgency as the IRS letters begin stacking up. You don't want them to be in the news or even worse go to jail! Then you realize things could get even worse, you could get in trouble too because your tax filing status is married filing jointly!

When you file a joint return with your spouse that makes you jointly responsible. Both of you may be held responsible, jointly and individually, for the tax and any interest or penalty due on your joint return. So if your spouse doesn't pay the tax due from their income you will be responsible to do so in the eyes of the IRS. If your spouse doesn't report the correct tax, both spouses may be responsible for any additional taxes assessed by the IRS. One spouse may be held responsible for all the tax due even if all the income was earned by the other spouse. Even if your spouse's tax debt was from prior to your marriage, filing a joint return can affect you. If you are due a refund it may be taken to go toward your spouse's tax obligations.

Note: You will want to file a separate return from your spouse if you believe your spouse isn't reporting all of their income, you know your spouse isn't paying all of their taxes and you don't want to be responsible for the payment.

There are some situations where you may be relieved of joint responsibility for tax, interest, and penalties on a joint return for items your spouse did that were incorrectly reported on the joint return. You can ask for relief no matter how small or big the liability.

There are three types of relief available.

  1. Innocent spouse relief.

  2. Separation of liability (available only to joint filers who are divorced, widowed, legally separated, or who haven't lived together for the 12 months ending on the date the election for this relief is filed).

  3. Equitable relief.

Note: Divorced taxpayers may be held jointly and individually responsible for any tax, interest, and penalties due on a joint return filed before their divorce. This responsibility may apply even if your divorce decree states that your former spouse will be responsible for any amounts due on previously filed joint returns. If you're now being held liable for your ex's past due taxes contact our office today by booking your call at so we can help you reclaim your tax freedom and compliance.

If your refund is going toward a past obligation of your spouse you may qualify for relief through the Injured Spouse program. You're an injured spouse if your share of the refund on your joint tax return was (or is expected to be) applied against a separate past-due debt that belongs just to your spouse, with whom you filed the joint return. You can qualify if both of the following are true:

  1. You are not personally required to pay the past-due debt (child support, overdue alimony, student loans, or anything else that your tax refund can be garnished to pay.)

  2. During the tax year in question you had earned income reported on your 1040 or

  3. Had income taxes withheld from your pay or made estimated tax payments.

If you're facing a situation where your spouse isn't dealing with their tax debt and you don't want to be held responsible contact our office today! We don't want the IRS to put a tax levy on your bank account or place a tax lien on any personal property that you own independently. Book your call at to protect yourself first, then we can save your spouse but you have to take the first step and book that call.


Timalyn S. Bowens EA is America's Favorite EA and Tax Expert who will work hard to find a customized legal solution for you! As an Enrolled Agent licensed through the Internal Revenue Service Timalyn is able to fight the IRS for taxpayers in all 50 states. As the host of Tax Relief with Timalyn Bowens and a YouTube content creator she empowers taxpayers to make educated decisions about their tax situation.

When you are facing questions regarding your personal or business taxes, working with a professional makes all the difference. At Bowens Tax Solutions, we serve our Louisville-area neighbors by providing the tax services and knowledge needed to succeed. We are here to assist you with your tax issues and preventative care. Visit our website at for more information.

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