What are the rules for filing status of same-sex couples?

For federal tax purposes, the IRS has a general rule recognizing a marriage of same-sex individuals that was validly entered into in a domestic or foreign jurisdiction whose laws authorize the marriage of two individuals of the same sex even if the married couple resides in a domestic or foreign jurisdiction that does not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.  Therefore, for these couples, the same rules for filing status of tax returns apply as for other married couples.  For those same-sex couples who are not married under such circumstances, the same rules apply as for those of other unmarried couples.  FAQs to specific related questions are:

  • Can same-sex spouses file federal tax returns using a married filing jointly or married filing separately status?  Yes. For tax year 2013 and going forward, those recognized as same-sex spouses under this federal rule generally must file using a married filing separately or jointly filing status. For tax year 2012 and all prior years, same-sex spouses who file an original tax return on or after Sept. 16, 2013 (the effective date of Rev. Rul. 2013-17), generally must file using a married filing separately or jointly filing status. For tax year 2012, same-sex spouses who filed their tax return before Sept. 16, 2013, may choose (but are not required) to amend their federal tax returns to file using married filing separately or jointly filing status. For tax years 2011 and earlier, same-sex spouses who filed their tax returns timely may choose (but are not required) to amend their federal tax returns to file using married filing separately or jointly filing status provided the period of limitations for amending the return has not expired. A taxpayer generally may file a claim for refund for three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. For information on filing an amended return, go to Tax Topic 308, Amended Returns.
  • Can a taxpayer and his or her same-sex spouse file a joint return if they were married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages but they live in a state that does not recognize their marriage?  Yes.  Under this federal rule, the federal regulations for using a married filing jointly or married filing separately status apply to these married individuals.
  • Can a same-sex spouse file using head of household filing status?  No, unless considered unmarried under tax regulations, a taxpayer who is married cannot file using head of household filing status. Therefore, those couples classified as married under this federal rule, may not file using head of household filing status.  However, any married taxpayer may be considered unmarried and may use the head-of-household filing status if the taxpayer lives apart from his or her spouse for the last 6 months of the taxable year and provides more than half the cost of maintaining a household that is the principal place of abode of the taxpayer’s dependent child for more than half of the year. See Publication 501 for more details.
  • Can a same-sex spouse file using the single filing status?  No, unless considered unmarried under tax regulations, a taxpayer who is married cannot file using single filing status. If the couple is considered married under this federal rule, the couple generally must now file using a married filing separately or jointly filing status. See Rev. Rul. 2013-17 for more details.

The best source of information for answers to questions about federal income tax treatment for individuals of the same sex is the IRS itself.  The IRS provides information, webinars and videos for this topic on a separate FAQ page of its website for such questions.

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Roy & Associates, PC serves clients in western Pennsylvania located predominantly in Westmoreland County, Allegheny County, and Fayette County.

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