Tax 101

Married but not filing with your spouse? Here are your options.

Married but not sure if you should file a separate return? We got you covered!

Last updated:

December 1, 2022


If you are married and not filing with your spouse, you may be able to use another filing status other than Married Filing Separately (MFS).  This can make a big difference to how much you might owe in taxes or get back in refunds.  This is because different filing statuses have access to different credit amounts.  It is especially true when you file Married Filing Separately.

Some Married Filing Separately drawbacks:

  • Missing out on some tax credits - Some tax credits, especially those for parents, are unavailable to individuals who file MFS.  The biggest credit that you cannot apply for is the Earned Income Credit.  Since the credit can be worth up to $6,900 this can be a large loss for a family
  • Taxes can be higher - If you file as MFS the tax rates and tax brackets may cause you to pay more in taxes
  • Social Security  - Can be taxable if you lived with your spouse at anytime during the year (2022)
  • Lower deductions - If either you or your spouse decides to itemize your deductions, the other spouse will have to as well even if they do not have any deductions.  This will increase the amount of your tax liability
  • Lower income limits on contributions and phase outs for credits - Even if you can still claim certain credits on your tax return, you may find that you are not eligible for the credits because when filing MFS the income limits are lower and you may no longer qualify for this year.

So what other options are available?

Injured Spouse Form

If you are only filing MFS due to a debt that you or your spouse owes that will take your refund, it may be in your best interest to file Married Filing Jointly with an Injured Spouse Form.   An Injured Spouse form allows you to file MFJ, claim any credits you are eligible for, and then split your refund based on how much each spouse earned through the year.  For example:  If a husband owes a debt where they will take the refund to help pay off the debt.  If you instead file your return jointly with an Injured Spouse form, the IRS will only take the husband’s portion of the refund to pay the debt and your portion will be refunded to you!

Head of Household

If you are filing MFS because your spouse does not live with you or refuses to file with you, you may still have another option other than filing MFS.  If you have a qualifying dependent, you may be able to file as Head of Household on your tax return.  You must meet the following requirements:

  1. You and your spouse are filing separate tax returns ;
  2. You paid for more than half the cost of keeping up your home;
  3. Your spouse did not live in your home during the last 6 months of the tax year;
  4. Your home was the main home of your qualifying dependent child
  5. You claim an exemption for the child*

By doing this, you will still be eligible for all the tax credits for you and your child.  Plus you get the higher amount of standard deduction reducing any taxes you might owe.

While there may be some cases where it may be in your best interest to file MFS, don’t just assume that it is the only way that you can file your tax return.  Missing out on tax credits may not only hurt you but your family as well.

view raw