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Can you be compelled to do joint income taxes in a divorce?


Milwaukee Attorney David Karp

This is a frequently asked question It is my opinion that a person cannot be forced as to file their federal income return jointly. A person has the right during the divorce to either file jointly, or file separate but married. The courts do not have legal authority either, in my opinion, to order a party to file a joint income tax return. However, filing on your own still has some legal wrinkles.

  1. Any refund a person might receive is subject to the divorce court’s jurisdiction, so even if you file on your own, if you receive a refund, the refund can be considered marital property for equal division.
  2. Any liabilities between the parties while married, can also be allocated between spouses. The divorce court has jurisdiction to consider the debts and obligations between the parties, even when filing separate but married.
  3. The joint income tax rates are  usually more favorable than filing separate but married, so making that choice may not be the best financial decision.
  4. Wisconsin is a marital property law state, so absent a tax reclassification agreement, the parties are still required to report 1/2 of each other’s income, deductions and with-holdings during any year the divorce is pending, and in the year of the divorce, from 1/1/ to the date of divorce. Filing Separate but married in Wisconsin, doesn’t exempt you from compliance with the department of revenue regulations and laws for filing state income taxes in Wisconsin.
  5. You cannot file joint income taxes in the year of the divorce. The only option in the actual year of the divorce is to file single, or where able and qualified to claim, as head of household status.

If you have questions on the tax laws as it applies when getting a divorce, contact the experienced family lawyers at Karp & Iancu, S.C. today for a free initial consultation, either over the telephone or in person. The first meeting is free and always confidential. 1 414 453 0800 or e mail me directly with any questions at


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