Can I File as Married Filing Jointly If I Am Separated & My Spouse Moved to a Different State?

by Mike Parker

    The filing status you use when you file your federal income tax return can have a huge impact on how much you owe in taxes and in how big your tax refund check might be. If you are married, your filing status choices are pretty simple. You can file a joint return or separate returns. Things get more complicated when you are separated, particularly if your spouse lives in a different state.

    Marital Status

    As far as the Internal Revenue Service is concerned, your marital status as of the last day of the tax year dictates your marital status for the whole year. If you were legally married as of Dec. 31, the IRS considers you to be married for that year for federal income tax purposes. If the IRS considers you to be married, you can usually file a joint return with your spouse.

    Separated

    There are a lot of shades of meaning to the term "separated." If your spouse moves to another state and you are no longer living together, you might consider yourself separated. But marital status is dictated by state law, and unless your separation is legally formalized by a divorce decree or state court's separate maintenance decree, you are still married as far as the IRS is concerned. You are still eligible to file a joint return with a spouse you no longer live with, even if that spouse lives in another state, as long as you are still legally married.

    Spousal Agreement

    Filing a joint tax return usually results in a lower overall income tax obligation than filing separate returns, but you can file a joint return only if both spouses agree to do so. Filing a joint return makes both you and your spouse responsible for the entire tax obligation, even if only one of you had income. You must both sign your return, so if your spouse lives in a different state you'll need to sign your return, then send it to your spouse to sign. If your spouse does not agree to file a joint return, you have no option but to file a separate return.

    Legally Separated

    If you are legally separated from your spouse under a court-ordered separate maintenance decree as of the last day of the year, you cannot file a joint return. You can file your federal income tax return using the single filing status, or in some cases you might be able to file using the more advantageous head of household filing status. If you and your spouse no longer live together and you meet certain other requirements, the IRS might consider you to be unmarried for federal income tax purposes, and you might be able to file as head of household.

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    About the Author

    Mike Parker is a full-time writer, publisher and independent businessman. His background includes a career as an investments broker with such NYSE member firms as Edward Jones & Company, AG Edwards & Sons and Dean Witter. He helped launch DiscoverCard as one of the company's first merchant sales reps.

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