Can My Spouse Keep All of Our Income Tax Check?

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The advent of e-filed returns has benefited taxpayers by substantially reducing the turnaround time for processing tax returns. Paper returns require six to eight weeks to process, while e-filed returns complete processing in only 10 days. However, e-filing makes it that much easier for someone with your Social Security number to fraudulently file your return and keep your refund check. Unfortunately, the IRS does not involve itself in family disputes whereby one spouse keeps all the tax refund.

Significance

  • When two taxpayers file a joint return, they are both required to sign the paper version of the return or mutually consent to the e-file. Filing a joint return without your spouse’s permission or consent is considered fraud. Additionally, if a tax return results in a refund check, the refund should be issued in the name of both filers, requiring the signature of both filers before a bank will cash the check. However, there are no such requirements for direct deposits.

Considerations

  • If you believe your spouse forged your name on a joint return, filed you as a dependent without your permission, or cashed your joint refund check and kept all the money, you will be required to take the issue up in civil court. The IRS does not have the authority to resolve disputes involving joint filers. If your spouse kept your entire refund check, the court will determine how much of the refund check you were entitled to and make allotments accordingly. It is not the job of the IRS to decide who is entitled to cash the joint check; that is between you and your spouse.

Assistance

  • Although the IRS cannot involve itself in family disputes, it can provide you with a copy of the endorsed check. This copy can be used as evidence in any civil court proceedings involving the check your spouse cashed.

Prevention

  • If you and your spouse are divorced or separated and there is a court decree outlining how the refund should be allocated, before filing, send that information to the IRS service center responsible for processing your return. In addition, you may file a "married filing separate" return if you do not want your spouse to have access to your tax account. If you file separately, your spouse is not entitled to any portion of your tax refund. Keep in mind, however, that filing separately eliminates your eligibility for some credits and deductions.

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