An Overview of Tax Problems That Can Occur for Spouses Filing Joint Tax Returns

You are busy with your job at Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma City during the day and shuttling your kids to piano lessons and soccer games after school. Taxes are the last thing on your mind. This is true for many married couples—one spouse takes the lead when it comes to the responsibility of preparing and filing joint federal tax returns. Often, it is simply easier and less confusing for one spouse to handle this task rather than having both spouses involved. Unfortunately, this division of labor can potentially lead to problems down the road. Issues relating to jointly filed tax returns can create many headaches if a couple later separates or divorces.

Tax Problems Arising From Jointly Filed Returns

How do issues arise from jointly filed tax returns? Following is an overview:

  • Spouses are held jointly liable for the taxes owed on a tax return, including penalties and interest.
  • In many cases, only one of the two spouses provides the information for the person who is preparing and filing the tax return on the couple’s behalf.
  • As a result, some spouses who are not actively involved in the preparation of the return may not know about mistakes that were made with the information.
  • Similarly, some spouses who are not actively involved in the preparation of the return may be unaware of the other spouse’s deliberate attempts to evade taxes.
  • In some instances, the “guilty” spouse later abandons the “innocent” spouse, or the couple files for divorce or separation. It is often not until this point that the underpayment or understatement of tax is discovered.
  • Unless the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) grants one spouse some form of relief, both spouses can be held liable for all tax amounts owed.
  • The spouse who does not seek relief from the IRS will be notified so that he can present his own case regarding the tax issue.


If you were given notice by the IRS of an underpayment or understatement of tax on a jointly filed return, it is important to seek guidance from an experienced professional. We are here to help. We encourage you to view our client testimonials page to learn more about what we can do to assist you with your tax-related problems.

Travis Watkins
Senior Tax Attorney