Taxation, Summer 2018

CAN A TRIAL COURT FORCE A PARTY TO FILE A JOINT FEDERAL INCOME TAX RETURN IN CONNECTICUT?

Connecticut case law takes the position that a trial court cannot force a party to file a joint return unless the parties have agreed to do so. In the 1991 case of Kane v. Parry the Appellate Court reversed the judgment of the trial court requiring the plaintiff to file joint federal returns for the years after 1983, remanding the case with direction to render judgment accordingly. In its decision, the court stated that the trial court lacks authority to deprive the plaintiff of her federal right to file a separate return. Citing the case of Wolk v. Wolk, the Appellate Court proclaimed that "a trial court has the authority to order a party to file a joint federal personal income tax return only if there was a prior agreement between the parties to do so." Similarly, the 2016 Appellate case of Finan v. Finan, reversed the decision of the trial court ordering the parties to file a joint return as the record showed no evidence of a prior agreement to file jointly.

It is important to know that the Internal Revenue Code mandates that each spouse is required to file or not file jointly based upon his or her own status. Each is individually liable to the Treasury for the separate tax on his or her separate taxable income, unless the spouses elect to file a joint return.

A joint return makes each spouse jointly and severally liable to the U.S. Treasury on all income earned by the parties including new debt in the amount of total tax owed plus penalties. So, if your spouse has income for which he or she has not paid taxes, do not agree to file a joint return unless you agree to be responsible for his or her unpaid taxes.