Spouses can be compelled to file joint tax returns. Such was among the rulings made by Essex County Supreme Court Justice Robert J. Muller on a motion for pendente lite (temporary) relief made in his May 20, 2014 decision in the divorce action, S.Z. v. C.Z. (N.Y.L.J. June 9, 2014).
The parties had been married for 25 years, when this divorce action was filed in March, 2014. They own 6 parcels of realty including the marital residence on which there is a farm. The wife left the marital residence in December, 2013 with 3 of the parties’ 9 children. 6 of the children are under the age of 21: the 3 who live with the wife, 2 live with husband, and apparently the 6th began living on his own.
Prior to reaching the tax issue, Justice Muller made rulings on:
- temporary maintenance for the wife (in which he denied the husband’s request that such be paid in the form of produce, meat, eggs, vegetables, etc., from the family farm);
- child support for the under-21 6 children;
- health insurance and expenses;
- appraisal and counsel fees;
- access by the wife to personal property left by her at the marital residence; and
- access to a home equity line that apparently did not exist.
Then, Justice Muller addressed the wife’s request for an order directing the parties to cooperate in the timely filing of a joint income tax return for 2013. Granting that relief, the Court stated:
While the April 15 deadline for filing has now come and gone, defendant indicates that the parties’ accountant has filed an extension for them. This aspect of the motion is therefore granted to the extent that the parties are directed to cooperate in the filing of their 2013 income tax return prior to October 15, 2014.
Comment: It would appear that this aspect of the decision was contrary to law. In Teich v. Teich, 240 A.D.2d 258, 658 N.Y.S.2d 599 (1st Dept. 1997), it was held that compelling a spouse to file a joint tax return is “contrary to Federal tax law, which gives each spouse unqualified freedom to decide whether or not to file a joint return, and beyond the trial court’s equitable powers.” However, the First Department did note that any adverse financial consequences of a spouse’s refusal to sign joint and/or amended returns can be taken into account in distributing the marital property.
Debra A. Whitson, Whitson Law, of Elizabethtown represented the wife. The husband represented himself.