Can Domestic Partners File Joint Taxes?

Same-sex domestic partners can't file a joint federal tax return.

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Internal Revenue Service rules prescribe different tax treatments for legally-registered domestic partnerships and other forms of legal union depending on whether the couple involved is comprised of a man and a woman or two same-sex partners. In general, the IRS tax rules for 2012 that apply to spouses or married couples do not apply to same-sex domestic partners.

Not Recognized

Federal law as of mid-2012 does not recognize same-sex registered domestic partners as married for federal tax purposes even though the partners are legally united for state law purposes. Accordingly, the IRS does not allow same-sex domestic partners to file their federal taxes jointly or as married filing separately.

Filing Status

A partner in a same-sex union must file as single or, if he or she has dependents, as an unmarried head of a household. But the taxpayer can’t file as head of a household if his or her only dependent is the same-sex domestic partner. IRS rules require that dependents be related to you, but a same-sex domestic partner under federal law is not your relative.

Benefits Exist

Because same-sex domestic partners are not spouses under federal law, they are not bound by IRS rules that can burden a married couple. For example, married spouses who file separate tax returns must treat deductions the same way, with both spouses itemizing or both taking the standard deduction. But a same-sex domestic partner can take the standard deduction or itemize without regard to whether the other partner takes the standard deduction or itemizes.

State Joint Filing

Eight states that legally recognize same-sex domestic partnerships, unions or marriages permit the same-sex partners to file a joint state income tax return. The District of Columbia also recognizes same-sex partnerships and allows them to jointly file district tax returns. As of 2011 the same-sex, joint-filing states include California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont. When state tax deduction rules follow federal deduction rules, same-sex couples who choose to file their state taxes jointly have to prepare a mockup of a federal joint tax return as if they were married so they can complete their state return.