Federal income tax rules are copious and complex, but tax filers must adhere to them in order to avoid penalties. One key area where tax filers must present truthful information is in the category of marital status. If an individual who is married files his taxes as a single person, he could face serious consequences. But the law does provide for some exceptions.
Under Title 26, section 7206(1) of the United States Code, anyone who knowingly and willfully misrepresents any part of a tax return is guilty of felony perjury. A person who files as single when she is actually married falls into this category. If the Internal Revenue Service discovers the deception, the guilty party could be charged and convicted. If convicted, the filer could face up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 for individuals ($500,000 for corporations) or a combination of the two.
Single Filing Status Categories
If you are not legally married, you must file as single, head of household or qualifying widow/widower. A single filer is an individual who does not have dependents and cannot be considered legally married in any state or territory by the last day of the tax year. A person filing as head of a household is unmarried, has paid more than half of the cost of upkeep of a household and has qualifying dependents (children, parents and other relatives living in the household). A qualifying widow/widower with dependent children must have had a spouse who died within two years of the current tax year, must have been qualified to file as married filing jointly in the year that the spouse died and must have custody of a child or stepchild by the deceased spouse.
Married Filing Status Categories
You may file as married filing separately or married filing jointly if you have been married for at least the entire year prior to the year in which you are filing. You are considered legally married by the Internal Revenue Service only if you meet one of the following criteria: you and your spouse have been living as husband and wife for the last year; you and your spouse are in a common-law marriage that is recognized by your current state or the state of origin of the marriage; or you are married and living separately, but not legally separated or you are legally separated by interlocutory decree that is not final.
You are not in violation of the law if you did not knowingly and willfully file as single when you were married. This situation could occur if you attempted to have an annulment or divorce in the previous tax year and you had reason to believe that the annulment or divorce was legal, but it was not. You may be able to present a case in your defense if you have evidence that the court handling the annulment or divorce was negligence in executing its duties.