A spouse can request relief from taxes in cases where a joint income tax return is filed and the innocent spouse did not have knowledge of any understatement of income or erroneous deduction. To obtain innocent spouse relief the spouse must prove lack of knowledge. The lack of knowledge test is very difficult to prove because it asks the proof of a negative. Proof often rests on establishing that the innocent spouse trusted the other spouse about preparing the tax return and didn’t really understand the other spouse’s business.
Innocent spouse relief is often requested when a return is being audited after a couple has divorced. If the couple is contentious, each spouse takes an opposite approach, with the “non-innocent” spouse claiming that the other spouse had full knowledge of all information contained on the return.
Some spouses are forced into signing tax returns by the exertion of physical or mental abuse. Proof of abuse is one factor the IRS will look at when making an innocent spouse decision.
Making a case for innocent spouse relief requires the help of a tax attorney. If there are allegations of fraud or other criminal behavior by the other spouse, only communications with an attorney are privileged. A bookkeeper or CPA can be compelled to disclose anything you tell them and any documents you provide if you are denied innocent spouse relief and criminal charges are brought.
The deadline for filing for innocent spouse relief is two years. However, in July 2011 the IRS announced that, in the interest of fairness, it will not strictly enforce the deadline, but only for requests for equitable relief.
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