When you are married to a nonresident alien, how you file your income taxes is your decision. The Internal Revenue Service grants you the ability to treat your spouse as a resident alien and file jointly or you can waive that provision and file separately. You are still married, however, and are not allowed to file under the single status. When you file without your spouse, your tax liability might be lower than if you file jointly, but you lose the option to claim important tax credits.
Filing Status Options
There are two filing statuses available to taxpayers who wish to file without the nonresident spouse -- married filing separately and head of household. If you file separately, you receive the same standard deduction as a single taxpayer, which is $6,100 as of 2013. The IRS will tax your income at the same rate as a single taxpayer, which is typically double the rate of filing jointly with your nonresident spouse.
Head of Household
Head of household is a filing status for unmarried taxpayers who pay the costs to maintain a home for a dependent. The status grants an $8,950 standard deduction as of 2013. To qualify for the head of household filing status, you must be unmarried or considered unmarried by the IRS. If your spouse was a nonresident alien for any part of the year and you are not treating him as a resident alien, the IRS considers you unmarried for the purposes of meeting head of household status. You must provide more than half the costs to maintain a home for a dependent other than your spouse, such as a parent or a qualifying child, and claim that person on your taxes.
If you decide to not treat your nonresident spouse as a resident alien and file using the married filing separately status, you do not qualify for certain tax credits. These credits include the earned income credit, child and dependent care credit, education credits and adoption credit.
Married Filing Jointly
If you opt to treat your nonresident spouse as a resident and file a joint return, your spouse is required to claim all income, including earnings from outside the U.S., which could increase your tax liability. To file a joint return, you must attach a statement to your tax return explaining your decision. Your nonresident spouse must have an individual taxpayer identification number. If your spouse does not have an ITIN, complete Form W-7 and attach it to your tax return.
Angela M. Wheeland specializes in topics related to taxation, technology, gaming and criminal law. She has contributed to several websites and serves as the lead content editor for a construction-related website. Wheeland holds an Associate of Arts in accounting and criminal justice. She has owned and operated her own income tax-preparation business since 2006.