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Tax Filings for Married Same-Sex Couples: Joint or Separate?

For more than a year now, marriage equality has been the law of the land. While some states had recognized same-sex marriages, the 2015 Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and recognized same-sex marriage rights across the United States. Along with marriage equality, same-sex couples have the right to make a number of important financial decisions.

One important decision every married couple must make is whether to file a joint or separate tax return. Filing jointly or separately could, in some instances, significantly reduce or increase a couple's tax burden. While every couple's situation is unique, here are some factors to consider.

When Should Married Couples Consider Filing a Joint Tax Return?

When each spouse earns a roughly average income, the couple should probably file a joint tax return. When one spouse earns much more than the other, it may be sensible to file a joint tax return as well, since combining incomes could place the higher-earning spouse into a lower tax bracket. This is sometimes referred to as the "marriage bonus." Furthermore, joint filers are entitled to a larger marriage tax deduction, deductions for student loan interest, and other deductions. For this reason, the majority of married couples should probably file jointly, although there are clear exceptions to this rule.

When Should Married Couples File Separately?

When both spouses earn substantial sums of money, it may make sense for the couple to file separate returns, as a joint return could push them into a larger tax bracket. For this reason, high-earning couples may want to file separate returns. Furthermore, certain deductions, such as out-of-pocket medical expenses that exceed 10% of a person's gross income, may be more readily available for separate filers. Therefore, if one spouse has been forced to spend substantial sums on medical expenses, separate filings may be the correct approach.

A skilled tax lawyer can provide invaluable counsel to minimize your tax burden, while remaining in compliance with all applicable tax regulations. For decades, individuals and business taxpayers have trusted Goldburd McCone LLP to provide intelligent tax representation. Based in Manhattan, our law firm serves clients nationally and across the world.

Sources: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Individuals of the Same Sex Who Are Married Under State Law, IRS.com, August 22, 2016, Gay Marriage and Taxes: Everything You Should Know, by Daniel Kurt, August 4, 2015, Investopedia.com

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