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Signing Joint Returns Mean Potential Liability For Taxes

Question: My husband and I have been separated most of this year

Question: My husband and I have been separated most of this year. He wants me to sign joint tax returns for 1993, but I have concerns about his income and deductions. My lawyer tells me that if I file separately, I may owe some taxes. What are the rules if I file -- or don't file -- jointly?


Answer: If you sign joint returns, you are liable for all of the taxes due plus any penalties -- that is, unless you qualify as an "innocent spouse." This liability continues even after your divorce. If you can not satisfy yourself that your spouse is honest, your best bet is to file separately -- even if it is economically detrimental to you and him. If you change your mind within three years, you and your spouse can file amended joint returns. But if you sign joint returns now, you and he can't amend later and file separately. Your husband may offer to indemnify you from any tax liability if you sign; however, his promise is not binding on the taxing authorities -- and no one can predict whether or not he will have the resources to back up what he offers if the time to pony up comes.


Please send your questions to P.O.Box 11704, Columbia, S.C. 29211 or by email to


To receive American Bar Association Family Law Section publications ("Divorce Handbook," "Your Divorce," "Taxes," "Father's Custody," "Relocation," or "Visiting the Child"), go to the resources section of this website or send $5.95 per publication -- $7.95 for the Elder and Child Support Issues -- payable to "Family Law" to P. O. Box 11704, Columbia, South Carolina 29211.


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