If I'm legally separated in California do I have to file individually or can we both agree to file married if we choose too? Is there a tax benefit to filing separately?

Is there a tax benefit for a husband that is legally separated to file individually if he is the main income earner?

Answer

The IRS looks to your marital status under state law to determine your Federal filing status.  If you are legally separated you can file as Single or as Head of Household, if you maintain a household for a child.  An agreement would not be effective because it would not change your status under state law.  The following TurboTax FAQ explains the various types of filing statuses:

The IRS offers these 5 tax filing statuses:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Head of household
  • Qualifying widow(er)

You may qualify for more than one tax filing status. For example, a single (unmarried) person isn't necessarily restricted to the single filing status. He or she may be able to file as head of household or qualifying widow(er), assuming those qualifications are met. But if he or she wasn't legally married as of 12/31/2017, they couldn't file their 2017 return as a married person.

Likewise, someone who was legally married as of 12/31/2017 could file as married jointly, married separately, or head of household (again, if he or she meets the qualifications). But they couldn't file as single or qualifying widow(er).

If more than one filing status applies to your particular situation, we'll choose the one that gives you the biggest tax break.


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