April 15th, the day you must file your tax returns or request an extension, is fast approaching. If you and your spouse separated during 2015, you may be wondering how to file your taxes. If you were not divorced on or before December 31, 2015, the IRS considers you married for 2015, even if you lived separate and apart for the majority of the year. Therefore, you must either file a joint tax return together or you each can file your own married, filing separately tax return. If you entered into an Separation Agreement that addressed how tax returns would be filed then your Agreement will dictate how to file. Absent an Agreement that addresses tax filings, then you likely have a choice whether to file jointly or married filing separately.
For many families, filing a joint return will result in the most tax savings for the family as a whole. However when it comes to cash refunds and cash flow, there may be reasons why it benefits some spouses to file married filing separately. Thus, it is important that you first consult any Agreement you may have, and then consult with your accountant and/or family law attorney to review your options. If you decide to file separate returns, be aware that only one parent can claim head of household and/or dependency exemptions related to the children. Therefore if you do not already have an agreement with regard to these issues it is important to communicate with your spouse just prior to or shortly after filing to avoid you both claiming the exemptions. If both you and your spouse claim the dependency exemptions you may be more likely to be audited. If you both claim the exemptions it is likely that the spouse who filed their return first will get the benefit of the exemptions.
If you file married filing separately, you and your spouse can later on decide to amend to file a joint return. If you file a joint return, you cannot later amend to file married filing separately. But be aware that if on April 15th you file for an extension, rather than filing your actual return, the act of an extension may later prevent you from amending your married filing separately return to a joint return. Before filing for an extension you should consult with your accountant for advice regading any impact the extension will have on your ability to amend your filing later on.