How To Get a Copy of Tax Return Information for Your Divorce

Getting a copy of tax return data for at least the three previous tax years is important when going through divorce, especially if you signed the returns without looking at them.

Not only will it help your lawyer or forensic accountant uncover hidden assets, give you proof of your spouse's income, and reveal retirement accounts, it can also help you in the event of an IRS audit.

The important thing to remember is that you have a legal right to a copy of any joint income tax returns that were signed by both you and your spouse. Read on to learn how to get copies of past tax returns to help in your divorce case.

Obtaining Tax Returns

by Noah Rosenfarb 

Picture of various tax forms

In a divorce or child support case, it is often important to obtain tax return information during the case. Copies of tax return information can generally be obtained from:

  1. the IRS or State Tax agencies,
  2. a paid preparer, or
  3. the spouse that prepared the return.

Most people ask the IRS for information only as a last resort because they incorrectly assume it is a cumbersome process. In fact, it can be rather simple and quick, with no cost to get a copy of tax return information.

Getting An IRS Copy of Tax Return Transcripts

The IRS will provide "tax return transcripts" for any of the previous 3 years of returns free of charge. Tax return transcripts show most line items from the originally filed tax return (Form 1040-series, Form 1065, etc.). It won't display any adjustments or corrections made after the original return was processed. These requests are usually processed within 10 days.

You can easily get a tax return transcript by using the online request system, calling the IRS to request the transcript, or mailing your request form to the IRS. To use the online system, go to and click on the link which reads "Order a Return or Account Transcript". This is a self-service system that will walk you through the steps needed to complete the request. If you would rather call to request the transcript, you can call 1-800-908-9946. And lastly, you can also mail in your request by filing out IRS Form 4506T (PDF file). Mailing instructions are included with the form. Note that only one spouse needs to make the request - by phone or mail - therefore this can be done unilaterally.

The IRS can also provide copies of tax returns for a fee of $43 for each return requested, which may take up to 72 days to process. When you request a physical copy of your tax return, you will also receive all accompanying forms, W2's, and amended returns. The advantage of this method is that the last 7 years of returns are available for copy. To request physical copies, complete IRS Form 4506 (PDF file) and mail it to the address listed for your area. But, barring some specific need, transcripts are a cheaper and faster way to obtain tax information.

In conclusion, while it is helpful to receive copies of tax returns from paid preparers or the spouse that prepared the return, obtaining tax return transcripts from the IRS is simple and easy.

As a result, when consulting with a potential or new client that indicates they do not have copies of their tax returns, have them complete Form 4506T or call 1-800-908-9946 so that you can obtain the information without making a discovery request from your adversary.

A copy of tax return information for previous years will help during your divorce and afterwards. In addition to that, you'll also want to make sure your taxes are filed properly. Here are some articles that discuss other tax issues that may come up during divorce as well as afterwards: 

  1. Divorce
  2. Divorce and Money
  3. Getting a Copy of Tax Return Information