Must I Pay Taxes If My Divorce Decree Says My Husband Should Pay?

By Beverly Bird

The greatest problem with divorce judgments or decrees is that they only bind spouses; they don't have the power to control creditors' actions and their terms don't govern the Internal Revenue Service. Even if your divorce decree explicitly states that your husband is responsible for paying taxes due at the time you divorce, the IRS might still look to you for payment if he doesn't satisfy the debt. You do have some options, however.


If the taxes you owe are the result of previous years' filings made before you began divorce proceedings, and if you and your husband filed joint married returns for those years, there's nothing you can do about changing your filing status – it's too late. No matter who is supposed to pay these taxes according to your decree, you're both responsible for paying them as far as the IRS is concerned. However, if your divorce is final on or before Dec. 31 of the tax year, you have no liability for taxes due on your husband's income for that year because the IRS won't allow you to file a joint married return.


If you never filed joint married returns with your husband, you're not responsible for paying taxes due on those returns if they're assigned to your husband in your decree. Spouses always have the right to elect to file separate married returns, and if you do so, you're only responsible for taxes due on your own income. If you filed joint married returns, however, you and your husband are "jointly and severally liable" for the taxes. If your husband doesn't pay, the IRS will expect you to do so.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Changing Your Mind

You have a small window of time to protect yourself against tax liability for a jointly filed married return. Up until the tax due date, typically April 15, you can amend the joint married return to a separate married return. If you do this, you wouldn't be responsible for any taxes due on the joint return that have been assigned to your husband in your decree.

Possible Recourse

If it's too late to amend your joint returns, and if the IRS is looking to you for payment of taxes your decree says your spouse is obligated to pay, you have a few options. If you must pay the tax debt yourself, you can usually take your husband back to court to enforce the terms of your decree. The court can order him to reimburse you and may even enter a money judgment against him. You could then use the judgment to place a lien against his property for the money he owes you.

IRS Options

You can also appeal to the IRS for help by filing Form 8857 to explain why you feel you should not be responsible for the tax debt. Separation of liability relief allows you to separate out a portion of the taxes due, such as those that might be attributable to your own income, and pay only that. You would not be jointly and severally liable for the whole amount, but only a percentage of it. You can also apply for equitable relief if your spouse was supposed to pay the tax debt but did not. You can try to convince the IRS that it should not hold you responsible. Time limits apply, however, and the rules are complicated, so if the IRS pursues you for taxes your husband was supposed to pay, speak with an accountant or attorney.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Indiana Divorce & Division of Income Tax


Related articles

How to Remove the Responsibility for Mortgage Payments in a California Divorce

When you contract for a mortgage, there are only two ways to eliminate your responsibility for paying it: you can refinance it into someone else’s name or you can pay it off outright. Either way, your responsibility ends when the lender gets its money. Both options are possible – and advisable – when you divorce.

Do I Need to Add My Wife to My Bankruptcy?

When people marry, they tend to commingle assets, debts and expenses. They open joint bank accounts and take out joint loans. The approach usually works quite well – unless one of you files for bankruptcy. You don't have to add your wife to your petition if she doesn't want to file for bankruptcy as well, but there may be some disadvantages to not doing so.

Can I Assume a Mortgage After Divorce?

Two incomes are better than one when it comes to making mortgage payments. Divorcing couples become well aware of this fact when struggling over who will continue making mortgage payments on their marital residence. Even though a divorce decree may be relatively easy to obtain when both spouses are agreeable, getting a lender to agree to a mortgage assumption or modification of the terms of a loan may be more difficult.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Can Bankruptcy Clear My Ex Spouse's Debts After Divorce?

When a couple divorces, the court issues a divorce decree that divides assets and debts between the spouses, but either ...

Divorce and Responsibility for Capital Gains

Once your divorce is final, your responsibility for paying income tax, which includes the tax on capital gains, and ...

Chapter 13 Laws Regarding Income Taxes

Bankruptcy rules concerning the discharge of federal income tax debt are different depending on whether you file under ...

Tax Penalties and Interest in a Bankruptcy

If you've ever found yourself in a position where your income tax debt was more than your available resources to pay ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED