Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Under existing law, spouses are jointly and severally liable for joint tax returns and, as a result, the IRS may pursue either spouse for any tax due but not paid. In 1998, Congress expanded the relief available to filers of joint returns to include innocent spouse relief, separation of liability, and equitable relief. Many critics of these three avenues of relief complain that the statute is too complicated and offers too little relief to spouses, generally wives, who sign returns under duress, while being deceived by their husbands, or while subject to some other marital compulsion. This paper first evaluates what Congress intended to provide to “innocent spouses” when it expanded relief. The paper then examines 445 cases decided on appeals from IRS denials of relief in order to evaluate whether the law is accomplishing that congressional objective. This paper’s aim is to judge the success and failure of the innocent spouse provision from Congress’s perspective.