Accounting students preparing tax returns at Northeastern State University's VITA clinic got to say, "I now pronounce you... Married Filing Jointly."
When you prepare taxes for a living – or in this case, as a volunteer – you never know what the day might bring. Maybe you'll get off easy with mostly 1040-EZs. Maybe you'll be asked to build a corporate return out of a shoebox full of crumpled receipts. Or just maybe… you'll perform a wedding.
This tax season, students at the Northeastern State University VITA clinic, in Tahlequah, OK got to do the latter. Associate Professor Dr. John Yeutter, CPA, normally supervisors the clinic. When things get busy, he sometimes expects to help out with return preparation. What he didn't expect on February 8th of this year was to marry two taxpayers.
"We had a family, a young lady, her boyfriend, and their 7-month-old son, come in to get their taxes prepared."
"We want to file together," the woman told him.
The concept was not new to him, said Yeutter, but the experience was. "I had heard from other preparers who had done this, but this was the first time it has ever happened to me in more than 25 years of preparing taxes."
Knowing that the state of Oklahoma allows couples who "hold themselves out to the public as married," to file joint returns, Yeutter agreed. "This is unique to the few states that allow common law marriage," he told AccountingWEB.
This particular couple had not previously filed their tax returns together, but, said Yeutter, they seemed to know that it was permissible under state law to do so. While filing a joint return may not be a ceremony that includes white lace and flowers, it is one way of telling the public you consider yourselves to be married, he explained.
Generally, the couple must use their own names, as this couple did, rather than both using the man's surname. Yeutter predicted that using the same last name might cause problems with the Social Security Administration because there would be no record of the woman's earnings except under her own name.
When asked if the Internal Revenue Service might question the filing status, he said that he was not aware of any such challenges. "I can't imagine how they would know or not know whether a civil ceremony had taken place. I have heard of other couples doing this in common law states," he added. "In states where common law is not recognized, this could not happen."
What does the IRS say on this subject? Publications 501 and 17 say that it is permissible to file a married-joint return if:
You are living together in a common law marriage that is recognized in the state where you now live or in the state where the common law marriage began.
So… did Yeutter and his VITA crew turn the tax prep into a wedding fest? Not really, but if it hadn't all happened so fast, they might have. In a short write-up of the event for the Oklahoma Society of CPAs, Yeutter added:
"I normally play jazz music in the background of the classroom to help make conversations more private, but I didn't think about theme music, or even saying something like, 'By the power vested in me by the Oklahoma Accountancy Board and the IRS, I now pronounce you man and wife' but I just thanked them for coming in."