Throughout the history of the United States income tax code, Congress has struggled with equitable treatment of married taxpayers. In the early years, married taxpayers dealt with uncertainty regarding the liability they assumed depending upon whether they filed one single return together, or two separate returns. Congress ultimately concluded that married taxpayers who filed together should incur joint and several liability. In the meantime, married taxpayers who filed separately eventually found themselves losing out on several tax benefits simply by virtue of their filing status. Yet, many married taxpayers file separately for compelling non-tax reasons. The following legal analysis of tax liability issues faced by married taxpayers begins with a brief history of the evolution of the income tax laws as they applied to married taxpayers, with focus on congressional intent behind joint and several liability, and the preclusion of several tax benefits for married taxpayers who filed separately. The analysis will indicate areas in the tax law that should be refined in order to enhance equity in the law for married taxpayers. Finally, a review of state tax policies will reveal possibilities for proposals for enhanced equity, including suggestions for greater transparency regarding joint and several liability, and opportunities for extending valuable tax benefits to married taxpayers who file separately.

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