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Same-Sex Joint Filing


Joint (Photo credit: Chris KWM)

One result of the strike-down of DOMA is that legally-married same-sex couples will now be required to file federal tax returns as marrieds – either married-filing-jointly or married-filing-separately.  This ruling takes effect on September 16, 2013.  This means that, regardless of how the members of the couple filed their returns in the past, they only have the MFJ or MFS filing statuses to choose from for returns filed on or after September 16, 2013.

For couples who have not filed a return for 2012, now is the time to review whether filing as Single status provides a superior result (lower overall taxes) versus the MFS or MFJ option.  If filing Single or Head of Household works out better for the couple, the (presumably) extended 2012 tax return must be filed before September 16, 2013 in order to utilize a Single or Head of Household filing status.  After that date, the Single and Head of Household filing statuses will no longer be available.

State tax return filing status will still rely on the state’s law: if same-sex marriages are not recognized as “legal”, then the couple will still not be allowed to use a “married” status, regardless of whether the marriage was performed in another state where same-sex marriages are recognized.

In addition, couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships are still not allowed to use the “married” options – they must use either the Single or Head of Household filing status, whichever pertains to the situation.

A couple of technical notes:

  • Even though, since DOMA was invalidated, meaning that legally-married same-sex couples are retroactively considered to be legally married at the federal level, it is not expected that these couples will be required to re-file tax returns using one of the married statuses.
  • On the other hand, legally-married same-sex couples may benefit by filing using one of the married statuses, and it is my understanding that amended returns may be filed in those cases, within the statute of limitations for such filings.  If a refund is included, this means that most 2010 and later returns could be amended after the September 16, 2013 date.  The latest date for filing a 2010 amendment with a refund is October 15, 2013.
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  1. Lori D says:

    Great article Jim. If this applies to any readers, also check whether you had same sex health insurance coverage as you may treat the amounts paid for that coverage as pre-tax and excludable from income on corrected tax forms.

    1. jblankenship says:

      Great point, Lori. I can’t believe I overlooked that detail, but there may be others I’ve overlooked as well. Thanks for sharing!

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