You can claim the Single filing status on your tax return if you are unmarried or "considered unmarried" on the last day of the year. This includes people who have become legally separated or divorced. A person is considered unmarried for tax related purposes if on the last day of the year the person is not married to any other person or is legally separated from a spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree. State law will govern whether you are married or legally separated under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.
What is Single Filing Status?
"Your filing status is single if you are considered unmarried and you do not qualify for another filing status," the IRS says in Publication 501.
Single is one of five filing status options. Filing status determines which standard deduction amount and which tax rates are used when calculating a person's federal income tax for the year. For the year 2014, a person who files as single can claim a standard deduction amount of $6,200 (or itemized deductions if higher than this amount). The 2014 tax rates for single persons are as follows:
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Registered Domestic Partners and Civil Unions are Considered Unmarried for Federal Tax Purposes
In Revenue Ruling 2013-17 (pdf), the IRS takes the position, "For Federal tax purposes, the terms 'spouse,' 'husband and wife,' 'husband,' and 'wife' do not include individuals (whether of the opposite sex or the same sex) who have entered into a registered domestic partnership, civil union, or other similar formal relationship recognized under state law that is not denominated as a marriage under the laws of that state, and the term 'marriage' does not include such formal relationships."
Some states require registered domestic partners and persons in a civil union to file tax returns as if they were married; however, the IRS takes the position that domestic partnerships and civil unions are not the same as marriage. And so persons in a valid domestic partnership or civil union will need to file their federal tax returns using a filing status for unmarried persons: either single or head of household.
Furthermore, domestic partners and persons in a civil union who reside in a community property state may need to allocate income and deductions between each partner. This applies to domestic partners in the states of Washington, Nevada, and California.
Other Filing Status Options for Unmarried Persons
Unmarried persons who are eligible to claim a dependent may qualify for the Head of Household filing status. Head of Household status provides for a larger standard deduction and wider tax brackets compared to the Single filing status.
Persons who are widows or widowers and who claim a dependent child may qualify for the Qualifying Widow/Widower filing status. This is a special filing status for surviving spouses for the first two years following the death of their husband/wife.
- Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, especially the section on single filing status.
- Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals, especially the section on unmarried persons.
- Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, especially the section on single filing status.
- Revenue Ruling 2013-17 (pdf), which discusses the rules for determining marital status of same-sex married couples, registered domestic partners, and persons in a civil union.
- J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax, chapter 1.