Innocent Spouse Relief Not Permitted by Ninth Circuit

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California upheld a decision of the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) denying innocent spouse relief pursuant to Internal Revenue Code § 6015. Generally spouses filing joint income tax returns are both liable for any taxes due. In certain circumstances, however, one spouse may be entitled to so-called innocent spouse relief. One of the keys to obtaining innocent spouse relief, however, is making the request in a timely manner. There are a number of different deadlines which must be met, or else innocent spouse relief will be lost. In Huynh v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2006-180 the taxpayer ran afoul of Internal Revenue Code § 6015(g)(2) . Not surprisingly the tax law requires that if a taxpayer wishes to claim innocent spouse relief it must be asserted in the same Tax Court case in which the taxpayer is disputing an income tax deficiency. However, Internal Revenue Code § 6015(g)(2) creates an exception if the innocent spouse claim was not an issue in the Tax Court proceeding. The exception to the exception, however, is that if the putative innocent spouse “participated meaningfully” in the proceeding than she can not later claim innocent spouse status.

The Tax Court noted that Mrs. Huynh participated in the prior tax deficiency proceeding by among other things, being present at meetings with the IRS’ Appeals Office, as well participating in pre-trial preparations, and settlement negotiations. Under these circumstances the Tax Court refines to allow Mrs. Huynh to later claim innocent spouse relief. Ms. Huynh was not represented by a tax attorney in either the first or second proceeding. Had she been properly advised by a tax attorney she would have raised her innocent spouse claim in the first proceeding.

If you believe you may be entitled to innocent spouse relief, contact California State Bar Certified Tax Specialist Dennis Brager, Esq.

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