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If you file a joint tax return with your spouse, both of you are legally responsible for the accuracy of information shown on the tax return, as well as for the entire amount of tax that is owed.
Spouses who are separated often file separate returns simply because they do not have access to complete financial information about the other party. The IRS considers you liable for taxes on a joint return, regardless of whether the divorce decree states you are not liable.
If one spouse actually suspects that the other spouse is not being completely truthful, he or she should consider filing a separate return to avoid possible civil or criminal penalties.
It is possible, but difficult, to obtain "innocent spouse relief" and avoid having to pay taxes, interest and penalties on amounts that were actually owed by the other spouse. You must establish that you did not know, and had no reason to know, that your joint return failed to report some income or claimed some erroneous deductions, credits, or other tax breaks. This is a hard standard to meet, but if you do, you can be relieved of liability for tax on that item.
To obtain innocent spouse relief, you have to apply for it using IRS Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief, which can be obtained at www.irs.gov or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM. You must file this form within two years after the IRS begins collection activities.