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I'm asking for a friend who is separated from her spouse, but not divorced yet. Her ex filed for SNAP benefits (food stamps) as single during a couple of months while unemployed in another state. Would this have any effect on their ability to file taxes jointly?

I said I didn't think so, but that they should contact the agency that they got SNAP benefits from to correct the single filing and potentially pay back anything they weren't legally entitled to.

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The IRS isn't going to care how you filed for benefits - they're effectively the high man on the totem pole. The agency that administers the SNAP program is the one who might care. File the 1040 correctly, and then deal with SNAP as you note. Do deal with SNAP, though; otherwise they might be in trouble if SNAP notices the discrepancy in an audit of their paperwork.

Further, SNAP doesn't necessarily care here either. SNAP defines a household as the people who live together in a house and share expenses; a separated couple who neither shared expenses nor lived together would not be treated as a single household, and thus one or both would separately qualify. See this Geeks on Finance article or this Federal SNAP page for more details; and ask the state program administrator. It may well be that this has no impact for him/her. The details are complicated though, particularly when it comes to joint assets (which may still be joint even if they're otherwise separated), so look it over in detail, and talk to the agency to attempt to correct any issues.


Note that depending on the exact circumstances, your friend might have another option other than Married Filing Jointly. If the following are true:

  • You file a separate return. A separate return includes a return claiming married filing separately, single, or head of household filing status.
  • You paid more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the tax year.
  • Your spouse didn't live in your home during the last 6 months of the tax year.
  • Your spouse is considered to live in your home even if he or she is temporarily absent due to special circumstances. See Temporary absences , under Qualifying Person, later.
  • Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild, or foster child for more than half the year. (See Home of qualifying person , under Qualifying Person, later, for rules applying to a child's birth, death, or temporary absence during the year.)
  • You must be able to claim an exemption for the child. However, you meet this test if you cannot claim the exemption only because the noncustodial parent can claim the child using the rules described in Children of divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) under Qualifying Child in chapter 3, or referred to in Support Test for Children of Divorced or Separated Parents (or Parents Who Live Apart) under Qualifying Relative in chapter 3. The general rules for claiming an exemption for a dependent are explained under Exemptions for Dependents in chapter 3.

Then she may file as "Head of Household", and her (soon-to-be) ex would file as "Married Filing Separately", unless s/he also has dependents which would separately allow filing as Head of Household. See the IRS document on Filing Status for more details, and consider consulting a tax advisor, particularly if she qualifies to consult one for free due to lower income.

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