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If you’re married or in a common-law relationship, you’ll need to notify the CRA of your marital status when filing your income tax return

This may impact how you file your income taxes because you can use the information from your partner’s return and pool expenses to decrease taxes or increase tax credit amounts.

Let’s go into more detail about filing your taxes as a couple in Canada and the tax benefits you can take advantage of.

Key Points

  • Each individual files their own taxes in Canada, even if they’re married or in a common-law relationship.
  • You must notify the CRA when your marital status changes by the end of the next month after the change in status.
  • There are several tax perks that married and common-law couples can take advantage of to keep more in their pockets come tax time.

Do You Have To File Your Income Taxes As A Couple? 

Unlike U.S. tax filers, Canadian couples don’t file a single tax return. In Canada, each spouse files a separate tax return and receives a separate tax bill or tax refund

However, in Canada, you must indicate your marital status when filing your income taxes. You may also be able to take advantage of certain tax credits and deductions as a couple. 

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How Do You Inform The CRA Of A Change In Marital Status?

You can update your marital status with the CRA in the following ways:

  • In your My Account on the Canada.ca website, use the “Change my marital status” service
  • In the MyCRA mobile app, choose “Marital status”
  • Call the CRA at 1-800-387-1193
  • Submit Form RC65, Marital Status Change to the CRA

What Are The CRA’s Guidelines For Filing Taxes When You’re Married?

If you’re married, you’ll need to make note of that when you file your tax return. In fact, the CRA expects you to change your status on their online system within a month of your wedding date

When you make this change by mail or on the CRA website, you can expect some of your benefits to change. For example, when you’re a couple, you must report any credits your spouse claims, such as the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) or GST/HST, for example.

What About Filing Tax Returns When You’re In A Common Law Relationship?

Many people believe that you can choose whether or not to claim common-law status. This isn’t true. 

According to the CRA, you are living common-law if you’ve been living together for 12 months. If you have a child together, common-law status kicks in as soon as you move in together.  You are also considered common-law if you are supporting or living with a stepchild.

As common-law partners, you’ll be able to reap the same benefits as a married couple when filing your income taxes.

Can I File My Income Taxes Without My Spouse’s Income?

No, you must report your spouse’s or common-law partner’s net income when you file your taxes. This is entered on page 1 of your tax return. You’ll also need to include your spouse’s full name and social insurance number.

What Happens If You Don’t Report Your Spouse’s Income?

As already mentioned, if you’re married or are in a common-law relationship, you are required to report your spouse’s income when you file your taxes. If you don’t, you could be found guilty of filing a fraudulent income tax return. If that happens, you could face repercussions, such as the following:

  • Being reassessed for unpaid income taxes and interest 
  • Charged penalties
  • Having your CPP benefits or other pension survivor benefits denied

Tax Benefits For Married Or Common-Law Couples

Some people worry that if they file your taxes together, they’ll pay taxes on the entire income. This isn’t the case, as you each file and pay taxes separately. 

However, there are benefits to coordinating your tax files as married and common-law couples. You may find yourselves eligible for more tax credits or deductions that can help lower your income taxes.

Spousal Tax Credit

In Canada, the Basic Personal Amount (BPA) is a federal tax credit that allows you to get back all the federal income tax you’ve paid. To receive this, your income must be at or lower than the BPA, which is $15,705 for 2024. 

As a couple, if one partner earns less than the BPA, the other partner can use the difference to lower the amount of taxes they owe by claiming the spousal tax credit. The difference between your partner’s income and the BPA will be the amount you’re allowed to claim. 

Pooled Medical Expenses

If you are married, you can combine some of your expenses to get the most from your tax credits. In particular, you can take advantage of filing as a couple by maximizing your medical expense claims. You can get a bigger medical expense tax credit when you combine your medical expenses and have the partner with the lower income claim it on their tax return. 

The reason is because your tax credit is based on a certain dollar amount or percentage of your income. For the 2023 tax year, this meant that you could claim medical expenses when they reached over $2,635 or 3% of your net income (whichever is lower). While one person may not reach the required amount, a couple may be more likely to exceed it and receive a higher tax credit.

Charitable Donation Tax Credit 

Another example of pooled expenses is donations. When you donate to registered charities in Canada, you’ll be eligible for a non-refundable tax credit. In general, you can receive a tax credit of 15% of the first $200 you give to charity. 

However, when you give more than $200, you can claim up to 29%. By filing as a couple, you can combine your charitable contributions and file them under one partner. Doing so will allow you to gain access to a higher tax credit more easily, which can lead to more savings.  

Transfers 

Another perk for married couples is being able to transfer certain tax credits from one spouse to another if the entire amount is not needed on one return. For example, tuition, disability, pension income, and age amounts can be transferred from one spouse to another to help reduce the amount of taxes owed.

Dependents

If one spouse makes less than the basic tax amount ($15,705 in 2024), the higher income spouse may be able to claim the lower income spouse as a dependent.

RRSPs 

If your partner has some contribution room left in their RRSP, you could put money in their RRSP. This is particularly advantageous to those who have a high income tax bracket. By contributing to your partner’s RRSP, you’ll reduce the amount of taxes you’ll have to pay. 

This will also help balance incomes after retirement and may be a great option for those who cannot contribute to their RRSP because they’re over 71. If your partner is under the age of 71, you can continue to contribute to the RRSP until they too become 71. 

Investment Dividends 

You may also be able to split investment dividends between spouses to save on income tax. If you are already retired, you can split your pension by giving a portion of your income to your partner. By splitting your pension with your partner, you’ll be able to save on taxes by landing in a lower income tax bracket.

How Do You File Taxes When You Are Married Or In A Common-Law Relationship?

While you can’t file a joint tax return in Canada, it is easy to file coordinated returns as a married couple. Tax software allows you to enter all of your information and your spouse’s information. 

Both returns will be saved and filed separately, but the software will help you to assign credits, benefits, and expenses in a way that maximizes your tax credits and deductions. You’ll need to provide your spouse’s name, social insurance number (SIN), net income, and information about benefits they have received.

If you are unsure whether the software is doing its job or just want the security of knowing it’s done right, a tax professional can answer all of your questions and put your mind at ease.

Final Thoughts

It’s mandatory that you change your marital status when you’re married or in a common law relationship. Filing your taxes as a couple affects your credit and deductions in several ways. Be sure to take advantage of tax software, like Turbotax, to ensure you maximize your credits. 

Income Tax FAQs

When filling your tax return, when is your partner considered as a common-law partner?

If you have a child with someone or live with someone that you’ve had a conjugal relationship with for 12 months or more, you’re considered as common-law partners. In this case, you must indicate it as such when you file your tax return. 

What if you are no longer married?

Just as you need to make the CRA aware when you get married or start living together, you’ll also need to notify them of a change in marital status within a month if your marriage ends. In case of separation only, you’ll need to let the CRA know if you are separated for more than 90 days.

What happens if you file your taxes as a single person when you are married?

Forgetting to change your marital status before tax time could be a costly mistake. As a single person, you may qualify for tax benefits such as GST/HST or the Canada Child Tax Benefit that you may not be eligible for with a combined marriage income. If you receive these benefits when you are not entitled to, you will likely be asked to repay them. It’s in your best interest to make sure your marital status is up-to-date with the CRA.
Shari Talbot avatar on Loans Canada
Shari Talbot

Shari is a Freelance Writer, specializing in personal finance, business blog content and education. She enjoys taking complex information and putting it into a form the average consumer can understand. When she is not working, she homeschools her children, supports her husband in business, and enjoys traveling with her family.

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