How to File Taxes If One Is Separated

Legal separation prevents you from filing a married tax return.
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Doing your taxes can be a difficult task under the best of circumstances. When you're separated from your spouse, this can make it even trickier. You have a few options depending on whether your separation is judicial -- meaning that it was ordered by the court -- or if you and your spouse simply moved into separate residences.


If Your Separation is Informal

The Internal Revenue Service says you're still married for tax purposes if no court order exists that details the terms of your separation and you're not divorced as of Dec. 31 of that tax year. In this case, you're limited to filing as either married filing jointly or married filing separately. If you and your spouse have signed a separation agreement, the IRS usually takes the position that you're still married if it hasn't been incorporated into a court order, but the IRS does defer to individual states' laws. If your state considers you legally separated because you and your spouse have signed a settlement agreement, you may not be able to file a joint return. Check with a local accountant.


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If You’re Legally Separated

If you filed for legal separation and the court issued a decree before Dec. 31, you and your spouse can't file a joint return for that tax year. You must file as a single taxpayer or, if you have a child or other dependent living with you, you might qualify as head of household, which has tax advantages.