What can I do if I am no longer married, or legally separated, and the abuser takes my stimulus payment?
If you are not married to an abuser, already divorced from him/her, a divorce is pending, or you have both signed a separation agreement, then there are a few things you can do to try to get your stimulus payment back.
- The first option, if it is safe to do so, is to ask the person if s/he received your stimulus payment and when s/he plans to turn it over to you. It is possible that money could have been deposited into an account and the other party did not realize it. If asking for the money does nothing, the next step is to ask about it in writing to begin to create a paper trail. You could do this yourself if it’s safe to do so or have a lawyer help you, if possible. The CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act state that “with respect to a joint return, half of such refund or credit shall be treated as having been made or allowed to each individual filing such return.”1 This means that even if the stimulus was issued to you and the abuser via one check or one direct deposit, one-half of the stimulus payment belongs to you. This language from the law might be useful when writing a demand letter.
- If there is a divorce pending, then you can ask the judge in the divorce case to order the payment returned to you. You may be able to do this at a hearing, or it is possible that you would have to submit a formal motion. It may be advisable to cite the language from the law supporting that your portion of the stimulus is your property.
- Taking money that belongs to another person when the parties are not married could be considered theft. When someone experiences a crime, s/he may be able to contact the police for assistance. The police may take action, or they might say it is a “civil matter” and refuse to get involved. If you are currently married to the abuser, going to the police may not be an option because most assets in a marriage are joint assets and cannot be stolen from one another. You can see more information about joint assets at the end of this question.
- Depending on the rules in your state, you may be able to bring a civil lawsuit against the abuser. If a divorce is pending, the issue may have to be addressed through the divorce proceedings, but if there is no divorce pending, a person who had money taken from him/her may be able to file a claim in small claims court. Small claims court is a less formal type of court, and many people are able to go to small claims court without the help of a lawyer. You can ask the court clerk at your local civil court for more information on small claims court in your area. You can also read some general information on small claims court, including how much money you can ask for in small claims court in your state, on our Suing an Abuser for Money page.
- In some circumstances, it might be possible for you to file a superseding separate tax return for 2020 to change your 2020 filing status, bank account information, and address by the deadline for filing your 2020 tax return (which is now May 17, 2021). The hope is that when the separate superseding 2020 tax return is processed, even if a joint 2020 tax return was already filed, it would update your information with the IRS and qualify you for your own separate stimulus payment(s) issued after the 2020 tax return is processed. You can also claim your separate Recovery Rebate Credit on the superseding tax return for which you think you are eligible. Changing your filing status might result in more taxes being owed, and so you will want to talk to a tax professional to see if this is a viable option for you. Here is a Blog Post with more information about this method. WomensLaw is not associated with this website and we cannot vouch for the information it contains.
- You might also be able to claim your first two stimulus payments for yourself as a credit (known as the Recovery Rebate Credit or “RRC”) when you file your 2020 tax return in 2021. Make sure to indicate to the IRS on your tax return that you did not receive your stimulus payment(s). The IRS will likely challenge this if their records show payments were already issued under your SSN, so you will need to argue, and prove if possible, that you did not receive the stimulus payments. The IRS will likely provide you with a limited timeframe of 60 days to respond to their denial of the credit. You should respond to the IRS within that timeframe and you may want to work with a tax professional for help with how to respond to the IRS by certified mail. The letter could explain the situation in detail and demand your stimulus payment if, for example, the IRS wrongfully put into an account to which you have no access. There is a Handout written by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Community Tax Law Project that explains this process in more detail.
1 CARES Act, within SEC. 6248, 2020 Recovery Rebates for Individuals pp 144-145