Dear Tax Talk,
I’m unsure of the filing status I should use. My husband has been out of the home since Sept. 10 of last year — domestic violence issue. Prior to that, he had lost his job in May. Looking at taxes for 2013, it turns out that he had a loan against his 401(k) that is now being treated as an early distribution since he is no longer repaying his 401(k). So if we file married filing jointly for 2013, we will owe more than $6,000.

My question is this: Can I file as head of household for 2013 even though he was in the home for part of the last six months of the year? He has cashed in what was left in his 401(k) — about $55,000 — and had taxes and penalty withheld, but has kept the $42,000 he netted and not given me any. He was absent from the home from Jan. 1 through the end of February last year, as well. So if the rules require absence from the house for six months in total then I would be OK. But I don’t know how strictly to interpret the filing status guidelines.

Thank you.
— Kim

Dear Kim,
You are not going to be able to use the head of household filing status since your husband lived with you in your home during the last six months of the tax year.

So you need to take a look at the married filing separately filing status as it seems to be your best choice in light of your circumstances. This way, you will only be responsible for your taxes. If you choose to do this, you will report your income, exemptions, credits and deductions.

However, you and your husband will have to coordinate together, as you both need to either take the standard deduction or both need to itemize deductions on your separate returns.

You are probably going to end up paying more taxes on separate returns because of the special rules that will apply. They are listed in IRS Publication 17, Tax Guide 2013. For 2014, you may qualify for head of household filing status, so that will likely make tax filings much easier then.

Thanks for your question and best of luck to you in 2014.

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