Ask The Taxgirl: Filing Single When You’re Married

Taxpayer asks:

I am getting married july 2010 for personal reasons. However, my husband and I are both going to still be in college until May 2011 and will be living separately with our parents as dependents. Would I need to change anything regarding my taxes? Could I still have my parents claim me and me file 0? Also, I have heard that you don’t have to file married for up to a year on your taxes which would be july 2011 and the next tax season would be 2012, so would we be able to wait until 2012 to change our tax status to married? I have read various places now that if you are married during the year that you need to file as married that upcoming year. Realistically, what would happen if we both just ignored the married status and just filed single next year and then filed married ( we are planning on having a public wedding after we both graduate) in 2012? Would a year really make a big difference? We both don’t really care about the advantages or disadvantages to the whole married filing jointly aspect, it would just make things much easier to file single. Also, we are not going to be living together at all until 2012 and we are both from the philly area (I read that you are from that area so if there are any local laws I figured you could let me know). If we did so illegally, what would be the consequences for this one year? We are not married yet and have both already filed for this year so next year is really the only issue since we are planning on getting married this july.


Taxgirl says:

For federal income tax purposes, your marital status is determined as of the last day of the tax year. For most taxpayers, that means December 31. It doesn’t matter if you were single from January 1 through December 30, if you are married as of December 31, you are considered married for the year. If you are single or divorced as of December 31, you are considered not married, again, no matter what your status was from January 1 through December 30. There are some limited exceptions to these rules but those generally apply to persons who are supporting another person and not the other way around (see IRS Publication 501 for more information).

To answer your question then, for federal income tax purposes, if you are getting married in July 2010, you are considered married for 2010 unless you get divorced or separated by December 31. It’s worth noting, since you mentioned local laws, that the feds follow the states with respect to marriage laws (except when it comes to same sex marriages which are specifically ignored because of DOMA and related statutes).

If you ignore your marital status and file as single, you should be aware that:

  1. When you sign your tax return, you swear that “Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return and accompanying schedules and statements, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are true, correct, and complete.” Willfully misrepresenting your marital status is perjury.
  2. Not only are you opening yourself up to audit (as well as your spouse), you are likely risking audit for your parents. If your parents claim you as a dependent when they shouldn’t, they are breaking the rules (see again #1).

I’m a little baffled as to why you would want to file as single. If it’s a financial thing (though you’ve said that it isn’t), you can always file married filing separately though most married couples find it more advantageous to file jointly. You should keep in mind that your tax returns are often used for other purposes, like FAFSA and getting a mortgage, so filing with the wrong marital status in the beginning can set you up for bigger problems down the road.

I wish you luck but I have to say, this just sounds like the beginning of a made-for-Lifetime-TV movie.

Like any good lawyer, I need to add a disclaimer: Unfortunately, it is impossible to give comprehensive tax advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. Before relying on any information given on this site, contact a tax professional to discuss your particular situation.

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9 thoughts on “Ask The Taxgirl: Filing Single When You’re Married

  1. Are they earning any money? She said they are both living at home as dependents, isn’t there another phrase about children who marry but have no tax liability and are not required to file and only file to claim a refund, can be claimed by the parent on their tax return. ?

  2. Paula, you’re right, but she would still have to file as married. There are also age, residency and support considerations – the parents need to be careful if electing to claim her as a dependent if she is married.

  3. The scenario sounds a bit shady, if you don’t mind my saying. I do have a follow up question: if you are a parent, is there any way to check to see if your child has married in the past year before completing your tax return? It sounds like the letter writer is not being forthcoming about her status with her parents, and that they would be claiming her as a dependent without being aware that it’s not true. What would be the implications for the parents if they end up due, and the IRS discovers that they (knowingly or not) claimed their daughter?

  4. 1.My boyfriend and I have talking about marriage for awhile now, but I have a few concerns. If my parents filed me under their taxes as a dependent for this year and we were to get married before the year ends, will this subject them to being audited by the IRS??

    2. I held my first job this year. Does that mean that I have to start filing my own tax returns next year? If so, does that now make me an independent that can’t be claimed under my parents if I’m filing my own returns?

    3. If getting this married year potentially led us to trouble by the IRS and we were to get married early in the new year instead, how would we go about filing our taxes as a married couple?


  5. Hi,

    I am a temporary worker in the US for the past 18 months. I am married, but my wife has never been with me in the US and so there is no question of her filing her taxes in the US. Since she has never been in America, she does not have a social security number, and that forces me to file my taxes by mail rather than electronically (because I have to enter NRA in the SSN field for her). I understand that paper filing will mean that the refund can take anywhere up to 8 weeks as opposed to e-filing, in which case a refund can be expected in 3 weeks.

    Since I need the refund urgently, I am considering filing as Single (rather than MFS) so I can e-file, and immediately upon receipt of the refund, I want to amend my filing status to MFS.

    I’d like to know if this sounds prudent or if can get into trouble over literally nothing. There is almost no difference between MFS & Single statuses for me in terms of my tax liability; I will be getting $22 more by filing Single.

    By the way, my marriage is not registered in the US since the marriage took place back in my home country. However, one way the IRS could perhaps determine my marital status is by the immigration details maintained by INS. In any case, there is little or no financial gain by filing Single, and as I said, I intend to file an amendment via 1040x to fix the status as soon as my refund materializes. I am considering a roundabout way of doing this only so I can get my refund a month sooner, which I believe will make a considerable difference to me.

    Thank you very much for your time and for the great help you have been for all of us!


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