Once you tie the knot, you’ll face many small details necessary to get your married life started off right, and eventually you’ll get around to filing your first tax return as a married couple. If you’ve never filed a joint return before, the prospect can be daunting. Relax: It’s largely the same as filing an individual return, and the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t require any significant proof of your marriage to claim married filing jointly status.
Proof of Marriage
For the most part, the IRS takes you at your word when you file a joint return. You don’t need to submit a copy of your marriage license or any other document to back up your claim. The IRS uses Social Security Administration records to verify your Social Security number against the name on your return, however, so if you changed your name when you were hitched, you’ll need to notify the Social Security Administration of the change, otherwise the IRS may flag the return, identifying you as a potentially fictitious spouse.
Social Security Administration Rules
Whenever you change your name, such as following a marriage or divorce, the law requires you to register the name change with the Social Security Administration so that it has your correct name on your Social Security card and in its database. If you’re lucky, the jurisdiction that issued your marriage license provided you with the paperwork to change your name as part of the deal. If not, you’ll need to contact the administration. Have a copy of your marriage license handy to facilitate the change.
Common Law Marriages
If you’re part of a common-law marriage, the IRS treats your marital arrangement as if it were a traditional marriage, though this determination hinges on state laws. To qualify for married filing jointly status, your marriage must be either legally recognized by the state where you live or the state that first recognized your common-law union. The IRS considers you married for tax purposes. You won’t need to provide any additional proof of your marriage when you file, so long as you file your return using the names on file with your Social Security number.
While you don’t need to provide much in the way of proof of your marriage when you file your return, if your return is selected for an audit, the IRS may look deeper into your living arrangements. If it determines you fudged your marital status to file jointly, you could find yourself in hot water. You’ll be required to pay the additional taxes you should have paid on an individual return, interest on the unpaid amount and any penalties for filing an erroneous return.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.