Filing Status Options for Gay Couples

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On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that all people have a right to marry, regardless of the gender of either spouse. The Obergefell case has important tax consequences. One consequence is that gay and lesbian married couples no longer have to grapple with having one filing status for their federal tax return and different filing status for their state tax return.

Gay and lesbian couples who are lawfully married may file their tax returns just like any other married couple would -- at both the federal and state levels.

All married couples, regardless of their gender, have three possibilities.

1. They can combine all of their income and deductions onto one, jointly filed tax return. The key advantage of the married filing jointly status is its administrative simplicity: just one tax return to prepare rather than two. The principal drawback is that both spouses take responsibility for the accuracy of the tax return and full payment of the taxes. 

2. They can file separate tax returns, with each spouse reporting its own income and deductions.  Married filing separately is often considered disadvantageous due to the range of tax incentives that are not allowed for separate filers. The principal advantage of filing separately is each spouse is responsible solely for what is reported on their own tax return, and thus not responsible for the accuracy of the other spouse's tax return.

3. In certain situations, married couples may be able to file separate tax returns with one or both spouses filing as  head of household.

Here's an example. Suppose one spouse lives on the East Coast, and the other on the West Coast. They have separate residences and they are raising two kids. As long as the spouses maintain separate residences and live apart from each other for at least the last six months of the year, and they have a closely related relative they can claim as a dependent, then they could qualify for head of household.