Tulsa, OK asked in Tax Law for Oklahoma

Q: Past taxes owed from my husband's previous marriage, why is it just now showing up?

When my husband and I filed Married-Joint for the first time we found out that he owed back taxes from a previous marriage. The taxes were from 2011! He was injured on the job so he had not been working from 2012 - 2016. So when we filed it took all of our tax return to put towards that debt. His Ex-wife was working during that time so I am not sure why this wasn't flagged earlier, as they filed jointly. Is there a way to split the responsibility between my husband and his ex wife? Why would my husband assume all of the financial responsibility? Are we now responsible for pay the total amount?

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2 Lawyer Answers

A: It sounds to me like your husband must not have filed any tax returns for 2011, nor during the five years he says he did not work, which would trigger an IRS audit. If his ex wife also failed to file in 2011, she would also be in the snare with him. Sounds like she may have filed without him (married filing separately), which is another flag when the IRS starts looking at the other spouse. Warning: The IRS is Way behind in auditing taxpayers. So, if the IRS is now looking for taxes going back to 2011, next year they may be looking for taxes for 2012; and then 2013; and then 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Linda Simmons Campbell
Linda Simmons Campbell
  • Tax Law Lawyer
  • Burlington, CT

A: If your husband filed a tax return with his ex-wife then they are both jointly and severally (individually) liable. The IRS can go after one person or both. They do not split the taxes 50/50 or apportion them according to income. The IRS will collect from whoever they can collect from whether that is him, her, or both. If he did not file a return with his ex-wife and he did not file separately then the IRS may have filed a substitute for return for him.

Either way the IRS would have sent notices to his last known address. Usually that address is the one listed on a taxpayer's last filed return. Since he has not filed returns in many years the IRS may have sent the notices to an old address.

You can file for injured spouse (Form 8379) relief if you worked and would have been entitled to a refund if you did not file jointly with your husband. I recommend that your husband consult with a good tax attorney. Just stay away from the places you see advertised on TV.

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