When tax season comes around, your spouse usually files a joint return. After all, filing as a married couple is much easier than filing individual returns. However, something went wrong last year: Your spouse must have made an error on the return, and now you are being penalized for his or her mistake.

This happens every year to numerous Americans. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service offers a form of relief that shields spouses from the ramifications of an inaccurate tax return.

What is innocent spouse relief?

Innocent spouse relief means that the spouse who did not complete the inaccurate tax return will not have to pay the tax, interest and penalties that result from it. Instead, the IRS will collect the qualifying amounts from only your spouse.

There are a few criteria that you must meet to qualify for innocent spouse relief. First, the taxes in question must be individual income or self-employment taxes. Second, you must be able to demonstrate that you did not know about the erroneous information on your tax return. This means that you were not aware of an understatement, or a reasonable person in similar circumstances would not have known of the understatement.

Beware accusations of fraud

The IRS is always wary of spouses of who try to claim innocent spouse relief as part of a fraudulent scheme. If the IRS or law enforcement suspects that you or your spouse have transferred property to one another in a plan to defraud the IRS, they may try to press criminal charges.

Many people who wish to apply for innocent spouse relief choose to work with a tax attorney. A lawyer can help ensure that you comply with the law, know every option available to you and complete the process as smoothly and quickly as possible.