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Relief from joint income tax liability

Joint filers may be eligible for relief under recent revisions to the "innocent spouse statute."

Table of Contents

Overview

The Massachusetts “innocent spouse” statute was revised effective April 10, 2019. The revisions bring Massachusetts law more in line with federal provisions providing relief for joint filers. There are now three types of relief available: innocent spouse relief (available under prior MA law), separation of liability and equitable relief. A brief description of each type of relief is provided below.   

Note that taxpayers will not have to specify which type of relief they are requesting; DOR will review whether they are eligible for any of the three; however, equitable relief cannot be granted if a taxpayer qualifies for other types of relief.

Innocent spouse relief

 A taxpayer may be granted relief from the responsibility to pay tax, interest and penalties on an understated tax if all of the following factors are met:

  1. A joint return was filed for the tax year in which relief is requested;
  2. There is an understated tax on the joint return due to an erroneous item of income, expense, deduction or credit of the non-requesting spouse.  
  3. The requesting spouse didn’t know or have reason to know of the erroneous item at the time he/she signed the tax return; and
  4. It would be inequitable to hold the requesting spouse liable for the understated tax. 

Separation of liability relief

A taxpayer may be granted relief from the responsibility to pay tax, interest and penalties on an understated tax if all of the following factors are met:

  1. A joint return was filed for the tax year in which relief is requested;
  2. There is an understated tax on the joint return due to an erroneous item of income, expense, deduction or credit of the non-requesting spouse.  
  3. The requesting spouse is no longer married to, is legally separated from or was not a member of the same household of the non-requesting spouse any time during the 12 month period ending on the date of the application for relief; and
  4. The requesting spouse did not have actual knowledge of the erroneous item.

NOTE: With this type of relief, no credit or refund is available.

Equitable relief

A taxpayer may be granted relief from responsibility to pay tax, interest, and penalties if the following factors are met:

  1. A joint return was filed for the tax year in which relief is requested;
  2. There is an understated or unpaid tax for the tax year in which relief is requested;
  3. The requesting spouse is not eligible for innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief; and
  4. After taking into account all of the facts and circumstances it would be inequitable to hold the requesting spouse liable for the understated or unpaid tax.

General questions


How does a taxpayer request relief?

The spouse requesting relief must submit a completed MA Form 84Application for Relief from Joint Tax Liability, and an IRS Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief. A copy of any federal determination received after filing Form 8857 with the IRS should also be included if available. To file online, login to MassTaxConnect and choose “file a dispute." 
 

When can a request for relief be filed?   

A taxpayer may file a request for relief within two years from the date the Commissioner began collection activity on the tax year at issue.   
 

Will the non-requesting taxpayer be notified that a request for relief has been filed?

Yes, DOR will send the non-requesting spouse a letter notifying him/her of the request. The non-requesting spouse may respond to the request for relief in writing using Form M-12508, Massachusetts Questionnaire for Non-Requesting Spouse.

 

Contact

Phone

Tax Department (617) 887-6367
Toll-free in Massachusetts (800) 392-6089

8:30 a.m.–4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday

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