Since the income-splitting tax code of 1948, it has been commonly known that being married or single directly affects the way you file your Federal Income Taxes. These filing differences affected both your tax bracket as well as your available deductions and credits.
But what happens when the couple isn’t formally married? What happens if the marriage is common law ?
The first thing to consider when dealing with taxes and a common law marriage is to determine if your state recognizes common law unions in the first place. Currently, eleven states provide for common law marriages and in addition, federal law requires that all states recognize a common law marriage if it was enacted in a state with legal provisions for such a union.
What does this mean for you?
In order to claim that you are married by common law, you must have been “married” in a state that recognized common law marriages and met the requirements set forth by that state. Assuming this is the case, you would be considered as legally married and could file your federal taxes as either married filing jointly or married filing separately.
How this filing will affect your taxes of course depends upon a number of factors, including your incomes, your deductions and various available tax credits. Couples with larger incomes could be affected by the marriage tax penalty .
If, however, you have not met the common law requirements or if your state does not provide for common law marriages, then you must continue to file as a single person.
It should also be noted that there is no such thing as a common law divorce so, once “legally” married, you must continue to file as a married couple (albeit separately) until a legal divorce has been obtained.