Generally, spouses who file a joint return are subject to joint and several liability for tax deficiencies under the Internal Revenue Code. Yet the IRS may grant a spouse relief from joint and several liability on a joint return in certain circumstances. One mechanism for obtaining relief from the general rule is to seek relief as an “innocent spouse” under 26 U.S.C. § 6015(f), which authorizes the IRS to grant equitable relief from joint and several liability.
When the nonrequesting spouse abused the requesting spouse, the presence of abuse weighs in favor of granting equitable relief. However, abused spouses sometimes struggle to provide sufficient documentary evidence that the abuse occurred to satisfy the IRS. In some instances, the only evidence of the abuse is the abused spouse’s allegations, which may be documented in divorce court pleadings. In Venables v. Commissioner, the abused spouse filed a Form 8857 requesting innocent spouse relief and relied on her petition for a temporary protective order in her divorce proceeding as evidence of the abuse. The IRS refused to grant the requesting spouse relief on the basis that her allegations in the petition were not actual evidence of the alleged abuse. The requesting spouse challenged the IRS’s denial of her request by filing a petition in the Tax Court. In siding with the requesting spouse, the Tax Court disagreed with the IRS and concluded that the requesting spouse’s petition for a temporary protective order was evidence of the abuse. 
Both requesting and nonrequesting spouses should consider the holding in Venables. On the one hand, it provides precedent for requesting spouses to rely on divorce pleadings as evidence of abuse when requesting innocent spouse relief. It also puts nonrequesting spouses on notice that abuse allegations in divorce pleadings may have tax ramifications down the line. To reduce the risk that the allegations will have unintended tax consequences, the accused spouse should request a ruling on the allegations or should ensure that the allegations are addressed in the settlement agreement resolving the divorce proceeding. For questions about innocent spouse relief, or any other tax-related matters, please feel free to contact Aaron Borden at (214) 749-2402 or firstname.lastname@example.org.