How to File for Innocent Spouse Relief: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of a tax liability that isn’t your fault, you might be eligible for innocent spouse relief. The IRS offers this program to help individuals who were unaware of their spouse’s tax misdeeds. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through the process.

Step 1. Understand Innocent Spouse Relief

Before you begin, it’s essential to understand what innocent spouse relief is. This program allows you to avoid paying additional tax, interest, and penalties if your spouse (or ex-spouse) failed to report income, reported income improperly, or claimed improper deductions or credits.

Key Points:

  • You must have filed a joint return.
  • The error must be solely attributable to your spouse.
  • You must prove you were unaware of the error when signing the return.

Step 2. Verify Eligibility

Not everyone qualifies for innocent spouse relief. The IRS has specific criteria you must meet to be considered.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • You filed a joint tax return.
  • The erroneous items are solely attributable to your spouse.
  • You can prove that, when signing the return, you did not know and had no reason to know there was an understatement of tax.
  • It would be unfair to hold you liable for the understatement.

Step 3. Gather Documentation

To strengthen your case, gather all necessary documentation. This may include bank statements, pay stubs, and any correspondence with the IRS.

Documents to Collect:

  • Copies of your joint tax returns.
  • Communication records with your spouse regarding finances.
  • Proof of your financial contributions to the household.

Step 4. Complete Form 8857

Form 8857 is the official form you need to request innocent spouse relief.

Steps to Fill Out Form 8857:

  1. Personal Information: Fill in your name, social security number, and contact details.
  2. Tax Information: Provide details about the tax return in question.
  3. Innocent Spouse Details: Explain why you believe you qualify for relief.

Step 5. Submit Your Form

Once you have completed Form 8857, you need to submit it to the IRS. You can mail it to the address specified in the form’s instructions or fax it.

Submission Tips:

  • Double-check all information for accuracy.
  • Keep copies of everything you send for your records.

Step 6. Respond to IRS Requests

After submission, the IRS may contact you for additional information. Be prompt and thorough in your responses to avoid delays.

What to Expect:

  • You might receive a request for more documents.
  • An IRS representative may conduct an interview.

Step 7. Await the IRS Decision

The IRS will notify you of their decision by mail. Be patient, as this process can take several months.

Possible Outcomes:

  • Full Relief Granted
  • Partial Relief Granted
  • Relief Denied


Filing for innocent spouse relief can be a complex process, but with the right preparation and understanding, you can successfully navigate it. If you need further assistance, consider consulting a tax professional. Remember, it’s crucial to act promptly and provide all requested information to the IRS.