Taxpayers should be aware that by signing a joint tax return with your spouse, you are jointly and severally (individually) responsible for any tax, interest, and penalties that arise from that return.

The IRS can pursue collection from either you or your spouse (or former spouse). However, you may be absolved of part or all of the liability if you qualify for one of three relief programs offered by the IRS: 1) Innocent Spouse Relief — if your spouse did something wrong giving rise to the tax liability due; 2) Separation of Liability — if the liability can be allocated between you and your spouse (or former spouse); or 3) Equitable Relief — if you do not qualify for innocent spouse relief or separation of liability, but exceptional circumstances justify relief from liability at issue.

These three relief programs may prove to be beneficial to a taxpayer that has signed a joint tax return with a spouse in situations where the IRS is pursuing action against the taxpayer based on joint and several liability.