So it’s the start of the next year and here you are gathering your papers together to file your taxes.  Inevitably, sometime during the process you will encounter the question “what was your filing status?”

While this seems like a straightforward inquiry, it often poses a challenge for those who recently married, divorced or separated.  Can I file as single if I didn’t change my name with the Social Security Administration (SSA)?  Am I considered married if I’m separated but not divorced?  What do I choose if my spouse passed away last year?

As with anything involving taxes, the answer often changes depending on the circumstances.  In general, if you are married before December 31st of a given year, your two options are to go married filing joint (MFJ) and married filing separate (MFS).  But we’re pretty sure you might have the following questions:

Wait, I can’t file as single?  Nope, not under ANY circumstances.  You are now married and have to file as such.

But what if I didn’t change my name with the SSA?  Doesn’t matter.  You will show your maiden name on your return, but your filing status will NOT be single.

Okay, so what if I married someone from another country and we haven’t been married in the US yet?  This opens up another can of worms that we’ll write about in another post.  But the short answer is the same as point number one, you have to file MFJ or MFS.

What happens if my spouse leaves me?  This one can get tricky.

  • Typically you would file MFJ
  • If you and your spouse aren’t on speaking terms (or you don’t know where they are) you would file MFS unless…
  • You have a child AND your spouse didn’t live with you for the last 6 months of the year – you may qualify to file Head of Household (HOH)

Okay, what if we got married and divorced in the same year?  If on December 31st you were legally divorced OR legally separated, according to state law, under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance then you can file as single.

What happens if I was married, but my spouse passed away?  If you spouse died during the tax year you are filing (e.g. 2012 in 2013) you can file MFJ for that year.  For 2013 and 2014 you may be able to file Qualifying Widow(er) if certain conditions are met.

As you can see, picking the right status can be a challenge.  If you need further help, check out IRS Publication 17 or their tool What Is My Filing Status?  If you want to know if it’s better to file MFJ or MFS, check out this post we did last year.