Can a Married Couple File Jointly From Different States?

You only have two requirements for filing a joint return. One is that you and your spouse both agree to file jointly; if you don't, you have to file separately. The other is that you meet the IRS definition of a married couple. If you qualify, you can file a joint return when living apart, as long as you're not legally separated.

Considered Married

As long as you and your spouse are married on the last day of the year, the IRS counts you as married for all 12 months. If, say, your divorce becomes final December 31, you file as single for the entire year. The same applies if you get an annulment or a legal separation. If the IRS considers you married, however, you and your spouse have the freedom to file joint or separate returns, whichever gives you the better tax deal.

State Taxes

If, say, you and your spouse claim New Jersey as your home state but you work in North Carolina year-round, you can still file a joint New Jersey return. You pay North Carolina income tax on your earnings there, and get a credit for that tax bill back in New Jersey. If your spouse is a New Jersey resident and your legal home is North Carolina, New Jersey will still let you file a joint return. Your own states' websites should be able to tell you the rules for your state.


If you can file jointly, that usually works out for the best. Joint status gives you better tax rates and more credits and deductions than if you file separate returns. If one of you lives in a low-tax state -- Florida, for example, has zero income tax -- that may not be the case. You might be better off filing a separate return in your state, while she files in Florida and pays no state tax on her income. Depending on your state's law, you may still be able to file a joint federal return.

Special Cases

If your spouse dies during the year, you can still file a joint return, unless you remarry before the year is over. In that case, you file a joint return with your new spouse and your deceased spouse's estate files a separate one. If you're part of a same-sex marriage, you cannot file a joint federal return, as of 2013, no matter where you live. Federal law doesn't recognize your marriage, even if your state does.

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About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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