The majority of married taxpayers do not fully appreciate the legal ramifications of executing a joint tax return. Regardless of the actual division of combined income, upon filing a joint return, each spouse is responsible for the accuracy of the entire return and liable for the full amount of any tax deficiency arising from the return. To avoid joint and several liability, a couple could file separate returns; however, this often results in a greater total tax liability. Alternatively, a spouse who qualifies as "innocent" of the erroneous items reported by his or her spouse may claim relief under Internal Revenue Code (I.R.C.) § 6015.
While relief from joint and several liability under I.R.C. § 6oi5 is an improvement on its predecessor, former § 6oi3(e), problems still remain that prevent many deserving taxpayers from obtaining relief. This Note focuses on two situations in which the requesting spouse had actual knowledge of the inaccuracy of the joint return, but signed the return anyway. The spouse in the first situation signed the return under duress. The spouse in the second situation signed the return to prevent retaliatory spousal abuse. Under current Treasury Regulations, § 6oi5 relief is only available to those who sign out of fear of retaliation by an abusive spouse. A spouse who signs under actual duress is required to suffer the tax consequences of a married-filing-separately return (a potentially debilitating outcome in community property states). This distinction between abuse and duress is an affront to common sense and in direct contradiction with both the text of the statute and the legislative intent.
M. Meghan Kerns,
Duress: A Perplexing Barrier to Relief from Joint and Several Liability,
58 Hastings L.J. 1123
Available at: https://repository.uchastings.edu/hastings_law_journal/vol58/iss5/5