An Empirical Study of Innocent Spouse Relief: Do Courts Implement Congress’s Legislative Intent?

60 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2011 Last revised: 28 Nov 2011

Date Written: October 18, 2011

Abstract

Under existing law spouses are jointly and severally liable for their joint tax returns. As a result, the IRS may pursue either spouse for any taxes owed on those returns. Concerned that the IRS was seeking taxes from the “wrong” spouse under the joint and several liability regime, Congress expanded relief for “innocent” spouses in 1998. Many critics of this relief complain that, as it is applied, the statute offers too little relief to spouses, generally wives, who sign returns while being deceived or compelled by their mates. However, there has been no empirical study of whether the current relief is, in fact, what Congress intended. This article fills the void by first evaluating the provision’s legislative history to determine what relief Congress intended to provide when it acted in 1998. The article then examines the 444 cases appealing for relief under this provision in order to evaluate whether judges are deciding cases invoking the provision in ways consistent with that congressional objective. Thus, this article provides an empirical study of the success and failure of the innocent spouse provision from Congress’s perspective.

Suggested Citation

McMahon, Stephanie Hunter, An Empirical Study of Innocent Spouse Relief: Do Courts Implement Congress’s Legislative Intent? (October 18, 2011). Florida Tax Review, Forthcoming, U of Cincinnati Public Law Research Paper No. 11-09, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1945982

Stephanie Hunter McMahon (Contact Author)

University of Cincinnati - College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210040
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0040
United States
513-556-4206 (Phone)
513-556-1236 (Fax)

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