The United States Tax Court (Tax Court) granted innocent spouse relief to Chrystina Nihser, overturning a decision by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) . Nihser v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2008-135. Ms. Nihser had applied for innocent spouse relief under Internal Revenue Code § 6015(f), so called “equitable relief.” This is, in my view, the most difficult type of innocent spouse relief to obtain.
In ruling that the IRS had abused its discretion in not granting innocent spouse relief, the Tax Court applied the eight-factor balancing test of Rev. Proc. 2000-15, 2001-C.B. 448. One of the eight factors is whether or not the requesting spouse suffered “abuse” at the hands of the non-requesting spouse, and the case contains a lengthy discussion of what constitutes “abuse” for the purposes of determining whether equitable innocent spouse relief is available. The Tax Court held that something less than physical abuse may qualify. The Tax Court looked to the medical literature to create at least a partial list of the factors deemed to be psychologically abusive. It determined that a psychologically abusive spouse is one who may: (1) isolate the victim; (2) encourage exhaustion by, for example, intentionally limiting food or interrupting sleep; (3) behave in an obsessive or possessive manner; (4) threaten to commit suicide, to murder the requesting spouse, or to cause the death of family or friends; (5) use degrading language including humiliation, denial of victim’s talents and abilities, and name calling; (6) abuse drugs or alcohol, including administering substances to the victim; (7) undermine the victim’s ability to reason independently; or (8) occasionally indulge in positive behavior in order to keep hope alive that the abuse will cease.
Based upon these factors the Tax Court decided that Ms. Nihser had been abused, and in part because she met that test, the IRS had abused its discretion in failing to grant her request for innocent spouse relief.