Filing Status and Today’s Families

Erik Baines *


A long-standing issue of tax policy is whether to tax people as separate individuals or as social beings. That is, how should a taxable unit be defined? Today, married couples may file either a joint return or separate returns as married individuals. However, filing separately often increases a couple’s combined tax liability. Single people must file exclusively as individuals, but their rates are generally, though not always, higher than those of married couples with the same amount of income. This tax difference between a married person and an individual creates what are known as marriage penalties and bonuses. These penalties and bonuses often create a disincentive for both partners of a married couple to be employed. Historically, a single-earner couple was the norm; however, society has changed since Congress adopted the joint return in 1948. Shifting attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation continue to move the family away from the single earner married couple norm.

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* Law Clerk to the Honorable Melvin R. Hughes and the Honorable Bradley B. Cavedo, Circuit Court of the City of Richmond. J.D., 2012, University of Richmond School of Law; B.A., 2002, Virginia Military Institute. This comment was the first place winner of the 2012 McNeill Writing Competition sponsored by the McNeill Law Society of the University of Richmond School of Law. Tax rates are referred to in the context of the year 2011 throughout the comment.


The University of Richmond Law Review proudly presents the twenty-seventh issue of the Annual Survey of Virginia Law. The Law Review is proud to commemorate the memories of two members of the University family, Anne Louise Hasselback and Judith Campbell Meyer, in the 2012 Annual Survey. Ms. Hasselback was a member of the law school’s Career Development Office, and Mrs. Meyer was a member of the law school’s Admissions Office. We are saddened by the loss of their presence in the school and are indebted to them for the contributions they made while they were here.

The Law Review offers the Annual Survey as a compilation of the recent legislative, judicial, and administrative developments in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The 2012 Annual Survey includes ten articles, each providing comprehensive updates in a specific field of law. The Annual Survey authors are well-seasoned experts in their fields and have dedicated countless hours to providing readers practical advice and poignant commentary. The 2012 Annual Survey includes four essays, which seek to inform its readers on a wide range of issues, from an examination of the rhetoric surrounding reproductive rights issues in the 2012 General Assembly, to a discussion of the current state of non-competition agreements in Virginia. The Law Review is proud to include a comment written by one if its own staff members and to boast three current Law Review members as co-authors to other pieces throughout the Annual Survey.

The Annual Survey traditionally is the most popular and largest edition of the Law Review. I attribute its success to the diligence and efforts of its authors in providing thoughtful and pertinent pieces. It has been an honor to work with each of you, and I sincerely appreciate your contributions. I thank the 2011 Annual Survey Editor, Laura May, for connecting me with many of you and providing crucial guidance from the very beginning.

I also would like to thank the staff of the Law Review. It is truly a privilege to be surrounded by such intelligent, patient, and talented people on a daily basis. Thank you to the Law Review Executive Board—Maggie Bowman, Clint Nichols, Simone Raess, Andrew Tarne, and especially Robert S. Claiborne, Jr. and Frank Talbott. Publishing a book is an enormous team effort, and I could not have asked to be part of a more pleasant, determined team. And to the indispensable Glenice Coombs, a huge thank you for quietly providing the wisdom and warmth that keeps the Law Review running smoothly. Thank you finally to my parents and siblings for their unrelenting support and understanding.

It has been an honor and privilege to serve as the editor of the 2012 Annual Survey of Virginia Law. Thank you for your support and patronage.

Tracey A. Theret
Annual Survey Editor

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