TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Infanti: Decentralizing Family: An Inclusive Proposal for Individual Tax Filing in the United States

Anthony C. Infanti (Pittsburgh) has posted Decentralizing Family: An Inclusive Proposal for Individual Tax Filing in the United States on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The debate in the United States over individual versus joint federal income tax filing is at something of a crossroads. For decades, progressive — and, particularly, feminist — scholars have urged us to abolish the joint return in favor of individual filing. On the rare occasion when scholars have described what such an individual filing system might look like, the focus has been on the ways in which the traditional family must be accommodated in an individual filing system. These descriptions generally do not take into account — let alone remedy—the tax system’s ongoing failure to address the tax treatment of nontraditional families. More recently, scholars concerned with the sexual-orientation-based discrimination that pervades our tax laws have proposed extending joint filing to same-sex and, in some cases, unmarried different-sex couples. But these proposals are equally problematic because they merely widen the privileged circle by extending the tax advantages provided to traditional families to other relationships patterned after the traditional family (and only to such relationships). Especially in view of the growing complexity of family arrangements in the United States, I find neither of these proposed paths to be desirable. As an alternative, I lay out a third path in this article that has a different, more inclusive destination. Relying on the Canadian experience with individual filing and proposals there to move “beyond conjugality,” I sketch the outlines of an individual filing system that, where appropriate, recognizes all economically interdependent relationships for tax purposes — and not only those that are patterned after the traditional family headed by a married different-sex couple.

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One interesting question is how to balance separate filing with progressivity. In Italy and other countries that have separate filing, it is sometimes more difficult to enforce progressivity, since two-earner couples frequently benefit from "two trips up the bracket structure" leaving more money to be raised from lower-income taxpayers. This is hardly a problem that can't be fixed, but it is worth thinking about.

Posted by: mike livingston | Dec 8, 2009 6:56:22 AM

This is an interesting segue from the IRS-Audited-Mother-of-Two post yesterday (

The most recent comment there suggested that the IRS wouldn't allow Head of Household filing status as her parents apparently earned much more than she did and she didn't provide more than half the household support.

Household consolidation due to the economy sinking has resulted in many instances like this and presents a challenge that can be summed up as: "Can there be more than one (IRS-defined) household under one roof."

Individual tax filing could either alleviate or aggravate this situation, depending on how it was written.

Posted by: J. Wiedwald | Dec 8, 2009 9:48:27 PM