How to File Taxes When You’re Separated

When you’re separated, it can make tax time a little confusing. You’re not really single, but you’re not really married, so how do you file?

The answer is that it’s really up to you. You can’t file single, because you’re not, but you do have a choice whether you want to file as married filing jointly or married filing separately. In most cases, because you can claim more deductions when you’re married filing jointly, filing this way will increase your tax return. If, however, you seriously can’t get along with your ex, or if he just refuses to cooperate with you for whatever reason, you always have the possibility of filing with the married filing separately status.

Our normal separation agreement usually includes a provision that allows the parties to select whichever method is most advantageous and file that way. Obviously, because you don’t really want to mess with the IRS, the most important thing is making sure those taxes get filed before April 15th. Whether you choose to cooperate for the sake of your refund is, obviously, up to you.

Another issue is that you and your husband will want to claim the same things—you’ll both want, for example, the mortgage interest deduction and the child dependent exemption. You can’t claim these things twice, so only one of you will get to claim them if you file separately. This is part of the reason that it’s often much more advantageous to file together.

In the cases where you file as married filing jointly, the refund should be split. You can certainly make some sort of argument about who contributed the most and therefore deserves a greater share of the refund, but if you truly feel that you would be better served to file alone, you should probably just do it that way rather than quibble over dollars after your refund is processed. If there is any tax liability, you should split that equally, too.

If it were me, I would want to handle the taxes myself. I would ask that he split the cost of whatever preparation service you select, or I would deduct that cost from the refund. I would make sure that the funds were direct deposited into my bank account, not his, and I would write a check or give him cash after the refund posted to my account. This way, you have complete control over the process, and you won’t have to wait until he finds it convenient to pay you your share. You should also provide him with a copy of the tax return you’ve filed for his records.

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