Can You File a Joint Return if You Are Married & Don't Live Together?

Married couples often live apart for personal or financial reasons.

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Although spouses typically live together, there are many instances in which they maintain separate residences. Military duty, school and business situations can geographically divide one spouse from the other. Some married couples may find themselves in a state of flux when spouses live separately from each other as they contemplate divorce. Regardless of the reason, a married couple can have an income tax filing status as married filing jointly with separate residences.


Even if spouses are legally married but not living together, they may file a joint income tax return unless they’re bound by a court decree of separate maintenance.

Married Living Separately and Taxes

If you don’t live with your spouse, you can still file a joint return as long as your marital situation fulfills the tax definition of married, and your spouse agrees to file jointly. There is no requirement that married couples must live in the same residence. According to the IRS, you’re considered married for an entire tax year, depending on your marital state on the last day of the year. This means that even if you get married on Dec. 31, 2018, you can file your 2018 tax return in 2019 with a filing status of married.

Married Filing Status Exceptions

If you’re separated and living apart without a court-ordered decree of separate maintenance, you may still file married filing jointly if your spouse agrees. Same-sex marriages and common-law marriages must be recognized in the state where a couple lives or where their marriage began. If your marriage is annulled by a court order, which rules you never had a valid marriage, you'll have to file Form 1040X for every tax year you filed as married to amend any affected tax returns. If your spouse dies, even on Jan. 1, you are considered married for the entire year.

2018 Tax Law

The 2018 standard deduction for married couples filing jointly is $24,000, regardless of whether couples live together or separately. If you file in this category in 2018, you’ll need to file your income tax return in 2019 on the new IRS form 1040.

2017 Tax Law

The 2017 standard deduction for married couples filing jointly was $12,700, which is significantly lower than the deduction for 2018. If you requested an extension to file your 2017 taxes, you’ll use the old forms – 1040 EZ, 1040A or 1040 – and you’ll use the tax tables contained in the 2017 forms, which will reflect this lower standard deduction.