California Tax Law for Married and Filing Separate

by Jill Stimson J.D. ; Updated July 27, 2017
The California tax tables are based on gross income.

The California Franchise Tax Board requires all taxpayers with California income to file their taxes annually if their gross incomes exceed the annual tax limits. For 2010, the state required married and registered domestic partners to file their taxes if they earned $29,508 and were under age 65 without dependents. Unlike the federal tax code, the California tax code allows domestic partners to file their taxes jointly.

Federal Law

The IRS does not impose separate filing rules on spouses, and married taxpayers can file their taxes jointly or separately using the “married filing separately” status. Generally, taxpayers receive greater tax benefits by filing their taxes jointly, including higher personal exemptions. However, the IRS defines a marriage as a legal union between taxpayers of different genders. Additionally, the federal government limits the status to those who are not legally divorced by the end of the tax year.

State Law

The California Franchise Tax Board is responsible for collecting state income taxes from residents and nonresidents who own property or work in California. The Franchise Tax Board must comply with the California Revenue and Taxation Code. According to the state’s tax code, taxpayers who filed their federal income taxes jointly must file their state taxes jointly. Similarly, taxpayers who filed their federal taxes individually as married filing separately must file their California state income taxes using that status.


California law allows California spouses to file their taxes as individual taxpayers even though they filed their federal income taxes jointly. The state’s permissible filing rules allow active U.S. military members or nonresidents without income within the state to file separately. Although the IRS does not allow taxpayers to file their taxes jointly unless they are legally married in opposite-sex marriages, California law provides an exception to the general rule requiring taxpayers to file using the same status claimed on their federal tax returns. California’s legislature enacted domestic partnership registration laws allowing same-sex partners and opposite-sex partners to enter into legal domestic partnerships. Although the IRS does not allow same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partners to file jointly, California does.

Joint Tax Liabilities

Under California law, spouses and registered domestic partners who file their taxes jointly are jointly and severally liable for paying their income taxes. Thus, the California Franchise Tax Board can collect delinquent tax payments from either spouse or from both spouses. However, California’s “Innocent Joint Filer Relief,” similar to the federal spousal immunity tax laws, allows innocent spouses to seek immunity under limited circumstances.


Since state laws can frequently change, do not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.

About the Author

Jill Stimson has worked in various property management positions in Maryland and Delaware. Stimson worked for the top three property management companies in the commercial industry and focuses her career on property building logistics and tenant relationships. She holds a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Science in psychology.

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