Domestic abuse is often violent, but it can also involve control. Many times, that means the abusive spouse taking financial control over the marriage.
At tax time, abusers sometimes use their financial control to game the tax system. They may file the taxes incorrectly — failing to report income or claiming erroneous deductions. Or, they may fail to pay the taxes due.
Far too often, people experiencing domestic abuse are unaware that they have rights.
What tax rights do you have?
According to the IRS, every taxpayer has the right to expect the agency to consider all relevant facts and circumstances that could affect their taxes. They also have specific rights regarding their joint returns, along with rights under the Innocent Spouse and Injured Spouse relief programs.
Every taxpayer, married or not, has the right to:
- File a separate return
- Review the entire joint return, including supporting documents, before signing it
- Refuse to sign a joint return
- Request an extension
- Ask the IRS for copies of previous years’ returns
- Get independent legal advice
Innocent spouse relief
If you have been suffering domestic abuse, you have the right to request what is called “innocent spouse relief,” which is relief from having to pay tax liabilities owed by your spouse. This is true even if you signed an improper return.
For example, suppose you signed the return and let your spouse file it, assuming they were paying all the taxes owed. Now, the IRS has contacted you because the taxes were not paid. You could apply for innocent spouse relief.
If you owe taxes due to the actions of your spouse, you can fill out and submit IRS Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief. You can file alone or have an attorney assist you.
The IRS is taking my refunds to pay my spouse’s debts. Can I get help?
Yes. When you file a tax return, you run the risk that any overpayment you would otherwise receive as a refund being seized to pay for certain types of debt.
A problem may arise when you file a joint return as a married couple and both parties’ overpayments are seized instead of becoming refunds.
If you would have gotten a refund if you filed separately, but you filed a joint return and your portion of the refund was seized, you may qualify for Injured Spouse relief. File IRS Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation. This form allows you to compute your share of the joint tax refund and seek to have it returned to you.
Also, victims of domestic abuse should be aware that a family law attorney can help with a protective order and by addressing the legal issues surrounding domestic violence.