States typically use information from a federal income tax return to determine tax owed on a state return. In most cases, states require taxpayers to submit a copy of their federal income tax return along with their state return. Unless you have a nontraditional marriage, you will most likely have to file using the same filing status as your federal return.
In most cases, married couples have two options -- filing jointly or filing separately. When you file jointly, you combine your and your spouse's income, deductions, credits and tax. When you file separately, you separate your income, deductions and credits, and each spouse is responsible for their own tax bill. Filing separately is similar to filing using the single status, with the exception that the separate status disallows you for some tax credits and deductions. Often, filing jointly will save you and your spouse money on your tax bill, but filing separately can be beneficial for some couples.
Married or Unmarried
In general, married couples must file using a married status, but some situations allow married couples to file single or head of household. The Internal Revenue Service will consider you unmarried if you are legally separated from your spouse as of the last day of the year, or you did not live with your spouse the final six months of the year. If your spouse is a nonresident alien and lives in your home, and you pay more than half the cost of keeping a home for a dependent, you can file head of household.
Most states follow the IRS laws and definitions of a marriage, but some states adopt their own rules. For example, as of 2013, 17 states recognize common law marriage, and 11 states recognize same-sex marriage. In these states, couples involved in nontraditional marriages can file joint returns. The IRS recognizes common law marriage and allows couples to file jointly, but same-sex marriage couples must file using the single or head of household status. Some states, such as Maryland and New Jersey, allow joint filers to file separately if one spouse is a resident and the other spouse resides in a different state.
The laws of each state differ significantly. Check with your state's department of revenue before filing your tax return to determine whether you meet the criteria to file separately. To locate the address or phone number of your state's department of revenue, visit the State Government Websites page on the IRS website.
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.