Getting married alters your tax picture and filing choices. A change in marital status that occurs by Dec. 31 usually applies to the entire year, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Regardless of when the wedding took place, a taxpayer's marital status at year-end helps determine his eligibility to file as head of household, as does the residency status his spouse elects to use if she is a nonresident alien.
Definition of Married
Unless a couple that married in July receives a final decree of divorce, a decree of separate maintenance, or a decree of annulment by Dec. 31, the IRS considers both spouses to be married for the year. If you possess one of these legal documents on that day, your marital status for taxes becomes unmarried for the entire tax year and opens the door to the possibility of using the head of household status. If one of you died between your July wedding and the end of the year, the IRS regards you as married and prevents you from filing as head of household.
Head of Household Definition
The IRS reserves the head of household filing option for unmarried individuals who maintain a home for a qualifying dependent. However, if the person you married in July is a nonresident alien and you choose not to treat her as a U.S. citizen when preparing your federal tax return, the head of household status may be an option provided you file separate returns and have a qualifying dependent other than your foreign spouse.
Five circumstances must apply to your situation to qualify you for head of household as an unmarried taxpayer. First, you must file a separate return. You also must have paid at least half the upkeep of a home. The third and fourth tests require you to maintain a home for a dependent parent or child for whom you can claim an exemption. Your parent doesn't have to reside under the same roof, but your child must live with you at least six months of the year. If you are married but your spouse didn't live with you the last six months of the year for reasons other than a temporary absence, you can be "considered unmarried" by the IRS and meet the fifth test. You are unlikely to meet this last test if you get married in July.
July Time Frame
Your July wedding narrows your ability to file as head of household in other ways. Because head of household requires that a dependent child live with you for at least six months in a home you maintain, you would need to document time the child resided with you prior to your marriage to meet the time qualification, plus be legally separated. If you have no children yet have a dependent parent to claim, you would have to be legally separated or divorced by Dec. 31. Without a court-sanctioned separation, you wouldn't be married long enough to meet the head of household requirement of living apart from your spouse for the last six months of the year. If the marriage doesn't work and you divorce or have it annulled by Dec. 31, however, head of household becomes an option provided you maintain a household and have the qualifying dependent.
Qualifying for head of household filing status gives you a more favorable tax rate and a better standard deduction than the single or married filing separately statuses offer: $8,700 versus $5,950. Your state's definition of marital status, especially for same-sex and registered domestic partner couples in community property states, may limit your filing options.
- IRS: Publication 17 Your Federal Income Tax
- IRS: 1040 Instructions
- IRS: U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad - Nonresident Alien Spouse
- IRS: Publication 501 (2011), Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information
- IRS: In 2012, Many Tax Benefits Increase Due to Inflation Adjustments
- SmartMoney: Tax Tips for Same-Sex Couples
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