How to Do Your Taxes if You’re a Same Sex Married Couple

Alden Wicker

How to Avoid Lying

Because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, you will have to file as though you are single or face stiff penalties. But at the same time, you are not supposed to lie on your tax forms. What to do? Some accountants recommend that you check the single box, but put an asterisk next to it indicating you are in a legal same-sex marriage. Lambda Legal has also drafted a sample disclaimer you can attach to your return.

You Might Be Able to Claim Your Stay-at-Home Spouse

If you are working and your spouse is staying at home, or vice versa, the SAHS could qualify as a dependent member of your household, and you could take an exemption for her. To qualify, she must:

  • Have earned less than $3,800 in gross income or unemployment benefits for the year 2012
  • Have received more than half of her support from you, in the form of food, clothing, shelter, education, medical and dental care, recreation, and transportation
  • Be a U.S. resident or citizen, or a resident of Mexico or Canada

For more on exemptions and how they work, read this.

If your spouse qualifies as a dependent, that also means you could qualify to claim education credits if you are paying for her education. To find out more, read this.

If You Share Assets

Like any married couple, you might share assets like a car, a home and financial accounts. But that makes things more difficult when it comes to taxes because of something called the gift tax. The gift tax kicks in when you gift someone cash or something worth more than $13,000. And because you aren’t married in the eyes of the federal government, sharing all your assets like a brokerage or bank account, car or house could be seen as “gifting” them to each other.

Fortunately, there is currently a $5.12 million lifetime exemption, which allows you to gift someone up to $5.12 million over the course of your lifetime. The exemption is in place through 2013, but you’ll still need to file a form declaring a gift more than $13,000.

If You’re Paying Mortgage Interest

If you own your home and both of your names are on the mortgage, you can share the mortgage interest tax deduction. You can split it in any way that fits you best, whether that’s 50-50 or 0-100 or 75-25.

For more on what homeowners need to know about taxes, read this.

If You Have Children Together

If both you and your partner are legal parents (biological or adoptive) of the same child, either of you may claim the child as a dependent. You could even claim the “head of household” filing status, which has tax advantages over using the “single” filing status. You’ll have to decide among yourselves which person will claim the dependent, but if you have two children together, you each may be able to file as a “head of household” by claiming one child as a dependent. If you do decide to do this, make sure you seek advice from a professional first, because this could trigger an audit from the IRS.

Read more about how to do taxes if you have children.

If You Provide Health Insurance for Your Partner

Because your state recognizes your marriage, you can provide insurance to your partner through your employer’s plan and vice versa. But since the federal government doesn’t recognize the marriage, they see that as an extraneous benefit. If you receive health insurance from your partner, you must declare the value of that health insurance benefit as taxable income from your partner’s employer on your federal tax return.