When Can You File Taxes as a Single Person after Divorce?

When you decided to file for divorce, the tax implications probably weren’t at the top of your mind. But once your divorce agreement is finalized, you need to know when to stop filing as a married couple.

Tax status options can be confusing, and choosing the right category for your situation is important to establish the correct withholdings from your paycheck. Here’s a brief overview of each tax filing status and how to figure out which one is right for you.

Filing taxes: Choose your category

Filing taxes after your divorce can be stressful. You may not have had to think about your filing status for a long time because you and your former spouse filed joint returns. But now that your divorce is complete, choosing the right tax status will help make sure you pay the right amount of tax – no overpaying or underpaying.

Odds are, your divorce will be finalized at some point during the year, not at the stroke of midnight on January 1. So, how do you file?

  • If your divorce is completed by the end of the year (December 31), you will file taxes for that year in a category other than married. Your divorce splits your taxes for the same tax year in which your divorce is completed. 
  • If your divorce is not yet finalized when your taxes are due, then you may file jointly, which could result in a higher tax credit. Or, you may choose to file separately. In this case, the choice is yours.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recognizes five tax categories. Here’s a brief breakdown of each.

Tax categories

Married filing jointly

Married couples can choose to file a joint tax return. If you do this, you must include your combined income, tax deductions, and credits on the same return. Married couples can file a joint tax return even if only one spouse earns income.

Married filing separately

Some married couples choose to file separate returns. While you still note that you’re married, you choose to file independently of one another.

Head of household

This tax status is for an unmarried taxpayer with dependents. To qualify, you must cover over half of the gross income for the household. This is a common tax status used by parents after divorce.

Qualified widow

This tax status allows a surviving spouse to use the married filing jointly tax rates on their tax return. To qualify, a spouse must remain unmarried for at least two years following the death of their spouse.

Single filer

An unmarried or legally separated individual may file as a single filer. 

Depending on your situation, one tax category may be better than another. For example, if you qualify as head of household, that may result in a larger credit than other categories — and a possible tax refund. But not everyone qualifies for head of household status.

What is a single filer?

Single taxpayers do not qualify for any other tax status. They file as unmarried individuals.

According to the IRS, if you have not lived with your spouse for the last six months, you may be considered a single filer. So, even if you’re still married, the IRS may consider you single for tax purposes. 

You’ll want to update your W4 as soon as possible. When you’re married, the total taxes your household owes are split between you and your spouse. Thus, once the ink on your divorce decree has dried, it’s important to update your W4 so you’re not over-taxed.

Please note that if you qualify for head of household or qualified widow tax status, that status may be more advantageous for you than single filer status. Also be aware that, if you live in a state with state income tax, your IRS tax status will need to match your state income tax status.

Get help determining your filing status

Determining your filing status is complicated. The IRS has a guide to help you figure out your tax filing status after divorce, but sometimes, it generates more questions than answers. And even if you have a clear understanding of your filing status, filing under a new status can be overwhelming. 

At Hello Divorce, we understand that if you’ve gone through a divorce, you’ve already been through a lot. You’re on a new life path now, and your tax situation may be the last thing on your mind. But it’s vital that you file correctly. A mistake could lead to tax consequences such as IRS fines and penalties, and even if you don’t face any fines, using the wrong status could result in a smaller tax refund or a higher tax bill.

For these reasons, Hello Divorce partners with Certified Divorce Financial Analysts who can review your post-divorce tax situation, guide your tax planning, and help you choose the right filing status for your needs. Our goal is to help divorcing couples start their next chapter off on the right foot emotionally, legally, and financially.

Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.