Question: Mary separated from her husband Joe in 2018. They did not divorce. Mary moved to another state with their minor child. For several years, Joe filed joint federal tax returns (MFJ) without including Mary’s income and without her consent. Mary has come to you for advice and wants to know what her options are in this situation. She also wants to file her returns. What can Mary do?
Answer: First determine Mary’s status. Is she an injured husband, an innocent husband, or something else? Injured spouses happen when joint compensation is used to pay off debts owed solely to the other spouse. An innocent spouse is a request for exemption from a tax return filed by both parties, where one spouse understates the tax and the other claims that they had reason not to know. Mary is neither. However, Mary was the victim of fraud that Joe committed when he essentially signed Mary’s name on a joint tax return. So what is the remedy to allow Mary to file her own return? If Mary:
- Fill out a paper declaration?
- File form 14039, Affidavit of identity theft?
- File a police report?
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission?
- Request a true copy of the fraudulent Form 4506 return, Request for a copy of the tax returnwith 43 dollars?
- Check credit reports and other financial reports?
- Freeze accounts?
- Get an IP PIN from the IRS using an online tool or Form 15227 (IP PIN Application)?
While Mary’s situation could become more complicated if Joe defaults on the fraudulent return, her best answer at this point is to obtain an IP PIN so she can file her own initial return. She can use Married Filing Separate Status (MFS). But given that she moved to another state with a minor child, she can probably file as Head of the economy (see section “considered unmarried”).
Note: The fact that her husband used her information to file a false MFJ return may force her to file a corresponding paper return, since the IRS will likely conclude that a return was already filed using her name and social security number. and can reject the electronic declaration.