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Complex Families and Complex Taxes: How Has Growing Complexity in Families Made the Tax Filing Process More Complicated?

The federal income tax system supports low- and moderate-income families with children using a tax unit that largely reflects the makeup of a “traditional” family—that is, two young people marrying, having children, and staying together. But the American family has undergone dramatic changes in recent decades. Couples are marrying later, divorcing more frequently, and living together without being married. About 40 percent of children born each year are born to parents who are not married, and many parents have children from more than one relationship.

The rules surrounding programs such as the earned income tax credit and child tax credit are complicated and are made more so by the increase of complex family structures. An expert panel discussed new research highlighting changes in the family and how this makes tax filing more complicated. 


  • Francesca Jean Baptiste, senior program manager, Maryland CASH Campaign
  • Elaine Maag, senior research associate, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center
  • Nina Olson, taxpayer advocate, Internal Revenue Service
  • H. Elizabeth Peters, director, Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, Urban Institute
  • Moderator: David Williams, chief tax officer and executive director, Intuit Tax and Financial Center
Event Materials

Intuit Financial Freedom Foundation provided general support funding to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. 

We thank our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. The views expressed are those of the presenters and should not be attributed to our funders, the Urban Institute, or its trustees. Funders do not determine our research findings or the insights and recommendations of our experts. For more information on our funding principles, go to

Date & Time Thursday, March 3, 2016
Urban Institute 2100 M Street NW
5th floor
Washington , DC , 20037
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  • Institute Fellow
  • Senior Fellow
    Codirector, Innovations in Cash Assistance for Children