Tax Answers

March 29, 1994

Here is an answer from members of the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants to a reader's tax question. The Sun will publish answers through April 15.

Q: What is the Internal Revenue Service's position on a couple that is separated with divorce pending? Can they file as married, filing separately? Who gets to make what deductions?

A: A husband and wife who have separated have several filing options. Although a couple may be living apart, they may find that they are still treated as married for filing purposes. Many separated couples remain married for tax purposes because they do not have the required "decree of separate maintenance," a court order to live apart. If the taxpayers are still considered married and both agree, they can file a joint return until the decree becomes final. If they do not elect to file a joint return, each will be required to use the married, filing separately tax rates. A special exception allows a married taxpayer to be considered unmarried and eligible for head of household status if the taxpayer's spouse was not a member of the household for the last six months of the year and if the household is the principal place of residence for the taxpayer's dependent child (ren). If the taxpayers do not elect to file a joint return, they must file separately and each claim his/her own deductions. But, here are some stipulations:

1. If either spouse itemizes deductions, the standard deduction for the other spouse will be zero.

2. Allowable deductions may be taken by the individual who actually makes the expenditure. However, if the husband and wife maintain a joint bank account in a common law jurisdiction, payments of deductible items from the account by one spouse is treated as though each spouse made one-half of the payment.

The above advice is for general purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting or tax advice. Specific situations may vary. Consult with a tax adviser for specific advice.

To ask a tax question by phone, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call 268-7736, in Harford County 836-5028, and in Carroll County 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, enter 6120 after the greeting.

Written queries may be sent to TAX QUESTIONS, The Baltimore Sun, Business News Department, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Fax questions to the Business News Department at (410) 783-2517.

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