Hello again mark,
First, you need not let this stop you from getting married, at least from the standpoint of being concerned about your personal responsibility for this tax bill. You cannot be personally held responsible for any taxes owed by your wife that were from tax years prior to your marriage. The only time you become personally involved for her taxes are in years where you are married and file a joint return.
Now there is one point I would like to clarify. Even though the IRS could not come after you personally or any assets you own, once you do get married if your wife's name is XXXXX XXXXX a joint account owner on any bank account or if you add her name to the title of your home or car or any other assets, the IRS can place liens and or levies on those accounts and assets. So just be certain not to add her name to any assets you own, and you will not have any issues personally with the IRS over this debt.
I am not a huge fan of Obama's policies, but I do not think this particular situation is being driven by that cause. This is just typical IRS procedure that they have followed for many years. Once a tax bill becomes due from a married couple, they IRS will go after whichever spouse they feel they will get the money from the quickest. Once that spouse drops off from the possibility of collection, they will concentrate their efforts on the other spouse.
I would suggest that you begin by calling the IRS and asking them what the final date of assessment was on that tax bill. I must warn you that it is not always easy to get this information, and some IRS reps will go further in trying to help you than others. It shouldn't be that way, but unfortunately it is. If you have trouble obtaining that information in a relatively short period of time, I would suggest that you contact the Taxpayers Advocate Service in your area. This is a group of volunteers who help taxpayers weed through the red tape at the IRS when they cannot resolve an issue on their own. Here is a link to where you can contact your local advocates office.
Once you have that final assessment date, that will give you a better idea of where to start. Remember the IRS only has 10 years from the final date this tax was assessed to pursue collection. With the taxes being from 18 years ago, I cannot imagine there is much time left on the collection period, and if that ends up being the case, you may just want to wait this out. On the other hand if it ends up that they have another year or 2 or even longer left for the collection statute to expire, then you need to look at your other options.
Filing bankruptcy is certainly an option which would relieve her of this debt immediately, but only if certain conditions are met. The following five rules must be met in order for a tax bill to be dismissed through bankruptcy.
If the income tax debt meets all five of these rules, then the tax debt is dischargeable in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy petitions.
- The due date for filing a tax return is at least three years ago.
- The tax return was filed at least two years ago.
- The tax assessment is at least 240 days old.
- The tax return was not fraudulent.
- The taxpayer is not guilty of tax evasion.
If your fiance's former husband qualified to have this debt discharged in bankruptcy court, then I have to believe she qualifies as well, as he would have had to meet the same rules. So filing bankruptcy would likely be a viable option which would end this nightmare for you if the bankruptcy is approved.
You can also try filing for the Innocent Spouse relief as suggested in my first post. That relief is requested by filing Form 8857 with the IRS.
Last but not least you certainly may want to get some outside help involved just to help you weed through the various paperwork and phone calls. However, rather than paying the high fees of a tax attorney, I would suggest that you contact an IRS Enrolled Agent for help with this problem. An EA is thoroughly experienced in tax law and is authorized by the IRS to represent taxpayers on all tax matters, and may even represent them in tax court the same as an attorney. They are just as knowledgeable as tax attorneys, but I think you should find their fees to be much more reasonable. So if you decide to get outside help, I would suggest contacting an EA in your area. I am giving you a link to the Natl Assoc of Enrolled Agents. On the left hand side of the page there is a link where you can find an EA in your area.
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Thank you mark, and I do wish you the best of luck in getting this resolved.