So I Married a Tax Cheat

I remember the Michael Myers movie, So I Married an Axe Murderer. Today the Tax Court looked at a related issue: What happens if you marry a tax cheat but don’t know about it?

The basic facts weren’t in dispute. The petitioner’s ex-wife was a parking lot cashier at the Philadelphia Airport in the early 1990s. She participated in a scheme to steal money from the airport. She earned about $90,000 in illegal (stolen) income. As you might expect, when the theft was discovered her employment was terminated.

There’s no dispute that illegal income is taxable. There’s also no argument that when a joint return is filed, both spouses are responsible for paying the tax on the income. In this case, both the IRS and the petitioner agree that about $36,000 in tax is owed.

However, there is a protection for the true innocent spouse. Section 6015(c) of the Tax Code:

“…That section limits an individual’s liability for a deficiency to the portion of the deficiency properly allocable to that individual under section 6015(d). In general, an item that gives rise to a deficiency on a joint Federal income tax return will be allocated to the individuals who file the return in the same manner as that item would have been allocated had those individuals filed separate returns.”

Given that when the returns were signed the petitioner knew nothing about the ex-wife’s illegal income, all of the income would be attributable to the wife.

However, the IRS disputed whether the petitioner had actual knowledge of the illegal income. If that were the case, he would not be eligible for relief by filing a Section 6015(c) election.

Luckily for the petitioner, for this section of the Tax Code the burden of proof is with the IRS (per Section 6015(c)(2)). While petitioner’s ex-spouse testified that the petitioner knew about the illegal income, that was apparently the only evidence that the IRS had. The petitioner also testified that he had no knowledge of the illegal income, and “…we find petitioner’s version of the events to be the more credible. Other evidence supports our finding in this regard. “

So if you marry a tax cheat, don’t despair. The Tax Code does actually offer you some protection. On the other hand, if you marry an axe murderer….

Case: Eller v. Commissioner, T.C. Summary 2007-215

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