Dear Liz: Is it possible to file a joint tax return if you are not married but have lived together for more than seven years? We’ve owned property together for nine years.
Answer: What matters to the IRS is how your state treats your arrangement. Most states don’t recognize common law marriages, in which two people live together but don’t have a marriage license. But a few do.
The states that currently recognize common law marriages under some circumstances include Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
States that recognize common law marriages entered into prior to certain dates include Pennsylvania before Jan. 1, 2005; Ohio before Oct. 10, 1991; Indiana before Jan. 1, 1958; Georgia before Jan. 1, 1997; and Florida before Jan. 1, 1968, according to the NCSL.
Also, most states do recognize common law marriages from those states where they are recognized, said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. In other words, if you move from a state where common law marriage is recognized to one where it isn’t, your union may still be considered a legal marriage.
Same-sex marriages are somewhat different, Luscombe said. The U.S. Treasury and the IRS have ruled that same-sex couples who were legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriage are considered married for tax purposes, even if the state where they currently live doesn’t recognize their union.
Confused yet? Talk to a local tax pro who can advise you about the status of your arrangement.