||Ask the Dollar Diva
Can we file a joint tax return
if we're not formally married?
Dear Dollar Diva,
My boyfriend and I have lived
together for 10 years. I earn over $40,000 a year, and he receives
Social Security disability income.
Although we are not formally
married, I filed a joint return last year and plan to do the same
this year. Do I need to report his Social Security disability income
on the joint return even though we are not technically married?
Was I incorrect to file a joint return?
Since you are not technically married, the only
way you can file a joint tax return is if you are living together
in a legal common law marriage. If that were the case, you would
have to report all income, including his disability benefits.
The Diva thinks the likelihood of your being
in a common law marriage is slim to none:
- The marriage
would have to have occurred in one of the states or districts
that recognizes common law marriage: Alabama, Colorado, District
of Columbia, Kansas, Idaho (if created before 1/96), Iowa, Kansas,
Montana, New Hampshire (for inheritance purposes only), Ohio (if
created before 10/91), Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South
Carolina, Texas, Utah;
- Your, and your
boyfriend's, intentions would have to be honorable (i.e. marriage-minded),
and you would both have to present yourself to your friends and
neighbors as the mister and his missus;
- You would also have to assume the marital
duties and obligations of husband and wife. Just about everyone
who makes that kind of commitment goes to city hall and coughs
up the cash for a marriage license. The Diva advises you to do
the same if you want to file a joint tax return.
A common law marriage is about as
common as a ghost orchid, and no one should presume
to have one without consulting with a knowledgeable
What to do if you're not married
If you were not legally married, via common
law or city hall, for the years you filed joint tax returns, you
are going to have to amend those returns.
Don't worry, people file amended returns all
the time, and nothing bad happens to them.
Go to the IRS Web site and retrieve Form
1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
You can type the information right on the form so you have a nice,
neat return to submit to the IRS. You'll also find the Instructions
for Form 1040X on the Web if you need help in filling in
Before you mail the 1040X, make sure you enclose
a copy of every page of the original Form 1040 that changed because
of the correction. Staple the copies to the 1040X so the IRS doesn't
If you had to file a state tax return, you will
probably have to amend that, too. Click
here to find the link for your state's Web site, and the form(s)
you need to amend your state return(s).
Can you claim your boyfriend
as a dependent?
If you pay over 50 percent of the living expenses of someone you
live with, and your relationship does not violate local law, you
may be able to claim that person as a dependent on your tax return.
Unfortunately, if sex-outside-of-marriage is illegal where you live,
you can't get the dependency exemption; even if the law is never
Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information,
spells out the rules for claiming a person who is not a relative
as a dependent, and a tax adviser will help you determine if your
-- Posted: April 30, 2001
-- Posted: April 30, 2001