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Selecting the right filing status and understanding the related issues

Same-sex married couples (SSMCs) have special considerations when choosing their filing status:

Here are some important things to know about selecting a filing status:

Can an SSMC file California tax returns with the same filing status as they use on their federal returns?

No, SSMCs are required to file their California returns using the married filing jointly (MFJ) or the married filing separately (MFS) filing status. Federal law does not allow SSMCs to file a joint return or a married filing separately return.

If a same-sex spouse files a California married filing separately return, are there any special rules for completing the return?

Yes, as is the case with all taxpayers eligible to use the MFS filing status, a spouse in a same-sex marriage who chooses to file a MFS return should see FTB Publication 1051A, Guidelines for Married Filing Separate Returns. 

Can a spouse in a same-sex marriage file as head of household (HOH) on a California return?

Yes, a spouse of a same-sex marriage can file HOH on a California return if they maintain the main home for their child, stepchild, adopted child, or eligible foster child and are "considered unmarried.” To be considered unmarried you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Your spouse did not live in your home during the last six months of the tax year.
  • You file a separate return.
  • You pay more than half the cost of keeping up your home for the tax year.
  • Your home was the main home of your child, stepchild, or eligible foster child for more than half the year.
  • You must be able to claim an exemption for the child.

For details on filing HOH, see FTB Publication 1540, California Head of Household Filing Status.

Do SSMCs need to terminate their marriage to qualify for HOH?

No, a married individual can qualify for HOH without obtaining a divorce. To qualify for HOH, a spouse would have to meet the requirements to be “considered unmarried.”

Can a spouse in a same-sex marriage who lives together with the other spouse, and who files head of household (HOH) for federal purposes, use the HOH filing status for state purposes as well?

If both spouses lived together with the child, stepchild, adopted child, or eligible foster child, at anytime during the last 6 months of the year, neither spouse would qualify to use the HOH filing status for California purposes.

If one spouse in a same-sex marriage dies, can the surviving spouse file a joint return?

Yes, if one spouse dies, the surviving spouse can file as married filing jointly for the year the spouse dies if he or she does not enter into a new marriage or registered domestic partnership. If a spouse dies in the following year prior to filing the return, the surviving spouse can file a married filing jointly return. For more information on surviving spouses, see Deceased Taxpayer.