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Is there any advantage to trying to keep our money separate by filing separate tax returns?
In most cases, no. One exception involves child and spousal support from a previous marriage. In some states, including California , an ex-spouse’s tax return can be subpoenaed by the other party and used to request adjustments in the amount of child or spousal support. A new spouse might want to keep his or her tax information out of the picture, and filing separately would achieve that end. Another involves IRS liens on a partner’s refund. In general, however, as of this writing, filing separately costs more in taxes because it removes certain tax advantages gained by filing jointly. The rules in this arena are subject to change, so if the amounts involved are significant, check with your accountant ....
In general, what are my legal obligations to my spouse?
Your legal and financial obligations to your spouse are exactly the same as your spouse’s obligations to you -- the law is egalitarian with respect to the marriage contract. According to the statutes in most states, this contract obliges each of you to provide basic financial support to the other. Husband and wife take on what are known as “obligations of mutual respect, fidelity, and support.” These include payment for shelter, food, and medical care, and become applicable if a spouse becomes ill or loses -- or quits -- a job.
What are my legal rights with respect to my spouse?Again, your legal rights in marriage are exactly the same as your spouse’s rights. They include the right to file joint income-tax returns with the IRS and state taxing agencies; to create a “family partnership” under federal tax laws, which allows you to divide business income among family members (often lowering the total tax); to create a marital life estate trust; to receive spouse’s and dependents’ Social Security, disability, unemployment, veterans’, pension, and public-assistance benefits; to receive a share of your deceased spouse’s estate; to claim an estate-tax marital deduction; to receive family rates for insurance; to avoid the deportation of a non-citizen spouse; to enter hospital intensive-care units and other places where visitors are restricted to immediate family; to make medical decisions about your spouse in the event of disability; and to claim the marital communications privilege, which means a court can’t force you to disclose the content of conversations between you and your spouse during your marriage.