Married Filing JointlyMarried Filing Jointly: Married taxpayers can choose between filing a joint tax return or a separate tax return.
The Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) filing status provides more tax benefits than filing separate returns, but taxpayers will need to weigh the pros and cons and decide for themselves which filing status will work best for them.
The Federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word spouse refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.
You are considered married if you are legally married on the last day of the year. To file jointly, both you and your spouse must agree to file and sign a joint tax return.
The IRS advises, If you and your spouse decide to file a joint return, your tax may be lower than your combined tax for the other filing statuses.
Also, your standard deduction (if you do not itemize deductions) may be higher, and you may qualify for tax benefits that do not apply to other filing statuses (Publication 501, "Married Filing Jointly").
By filing a joint tax return, both spouses report all their income, deductions, and credits on the same return. Both spouses must sign the return, and both spouses accept full responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of the information reported on the tax return.
The IRS cautions, Both spouses may be held responsible, jointly and individually for any tax, interest or penalty due on your joint return. Either spouse may be held responsible regardless of who had the income.
The IRS may at their will, grant relief from joint liability for taxes through innocent spouse relief, separation of liability, or equitable relief. Refer to Publication 971 (Innocent Spouse Relief).
If your spouse died during the year, you may still file a joint return for that year. In the following years, you can file as a surviving spouse, as head of household, or as a single taxpayer.
Filing Jointly versus Filing Separate
Generally it is more advantageous to file a joint return since married taxpayers who file separately are not eligible for many tax deductions and credits, and have higher tax rates.
However, Filing a separate return provides relief from joint liability for taxes. If you are unsure of the legality of your spouses income or income statements, it is advised to file separately.