Can My Husband Legally File Taxes as Married Without Me Knowing?

"Til death do we part" does not necessarily extend to tax returns.

Married hands image by Przemyslaw Malkowski from

If you're married, you have two choices of filing status when filing your taxes: married filing jointly or married filing separately. Your husband cannot legally file a joint return unless he has legal control of your affairs -- such as through a power of attorney -- because you must sign the return. He can legally file separately without your knowing, but you need to know how he filed to be able to complete your own return.

Marriage Defined

The IRS considers a couple married if they are recognized as husband and wife through legal or common-law marriage and live together as such. The IRS typically deems separated couples as married if they have not received their final divorce papers. Under IRS rules, you must be married on the last day of the year to file using a married status.

Married Filing Separately

If your husband does not want to share the responsibility of a joint return, he can choose to file separately without telling you. The status of married filing separately can benefit him if he expects to receive a refund and thinks that you will owe tax. You must know how he filed before you can file your own return because if he itemized deductions on his return, you have to itemize on yours. You can use Form 4868 to file for an extension if you need time to find out the details of your husband's return.

Married Filing Jointly

A valid joint return requires your signature even if your husband files the return electronically. The only legal way that he can sign the return for you is by filing Form 2848 and attaching a copy of a power of attorney that gives him permission to sign the return. When filing electronically, a personal identification number acts as your signature, but you must specify the PIN number for the IRS to recognize it as your valid signature. If he filed without your knowledge, contact the IRS as soon as possible to report the fraudulent return.


If your husband filed a joint return without your knowledge, the IRS can accuse him of various criminal acts including tax fraud, identity theft and forgery. If convicted, he faces fines and, possibly, incarceration. If the fraudulent return causes you to owe money or lose your refund, you can file Form 8857 to request innocent spouse relief. After confirming your claim, the IRS will return any financial losses caused by the joint return.