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IRS eases liability rule for spouse’s tax debt

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The Internal Revenue Service is making it easier for some “innocent spouses” to escape liability for their husband or wife’s tax debt.

Under the law, taxpayers who file joint returns are generally liable for the tax debts of their partners. However, spouses who are unaware that their partners have underpaid federal income taxes or underreported their tax liability may qualify for relief from the IRS. The IRS had required innocent spouses to apply for relief within two years of the agency starting a collection action. But yesterday the IRS eliminated the two year time limit for some applications after lawmakers and advocates complained that many abused or divorced spouses may not become aware of IRS collection efforts for years. To qualify for relief, taxpayers must apply for an “innocent spouse” designation.