IRS Tax Options for Domestic Violence Survivors
In the months leading up to my separation of my ex, I noticed that letters from the IRS kept coming in. I never opened any of them because, in good faith, I believed my ex was making payments on our income tax debt. I remember, though, asking a couple of times how we were doing with our debt because these letters were coming in more frequently than ever. So, fast forward to December of 2018. I finally opened a letter, and it said that they were going to start garnishing our wages effectively immediately!!! I remember my heart instantly sank. He had just gotten out of jail a week prior, and now this is happening. It was just too much to handle. I felt trapped. Even if I did decided to divorce him, I was going to still be attached to him through debt. Technically, it was his debt because he was the one with the higher income. I was barely above poverty level. I didn’t work as much because he gave me numerous empty promises that he would take care of me. Screwing me over the way he did is not taking care of me. I needed to find a way out of this debt and found out that the government had options for domestic violence survivors like me.
What is the difference between Innocent Spouse Relief and Injured Spouse Relief? The Innocent Spouse Relief was created due to spouses not telling their partners the entire truth of their financial situation. It allows a person to seek relief from penalties resulting from underpayment by their spouse. Injured Spouse Relief is simply for someone whose tax refund is used to cover the past-due debts of a spouse or ex-spouse. When married taxpayers file a joint return, each spouse has an interest in the jointly reported income and in the debt.
When I first got back to Texas, I wrote down a list of things I needed to take care of, and getting my name off this debt was on the top of the list—along with getting a protective order. I came across these two programs that IRS offered: Injured Spouse Relief and Innocent Spouse Relief. Even though I left my situation because of domestic violence, I was still married to him. I didn’t know which program to apply for so I did both. I applied in February 2019, and I received a letter about two months later telling me that my situation did not fall under the Injured Spouse Relief, but given the paperwork I gave them—police reports, bank statements, past taxes—I may be eligible for the Innocent Spouse Relief Program. They would get back to me in 6-8 weeks.
Time went by and nothing. I called the IRS and told them my concern about filing 2018 taxes, given that they might take my return (if I had any). The representative informed me that, because my application was still processing, no funds would be taken from that year’s tax return after I filed. Around August 2019, the IRS sent another letter to let me know that they were still investigating the situation. This was about two years of tax debt they were investigating, so it was going to take a while. They told me that they also sent a letter to my ex letting him know of the situation. By that time, the lifetime protective order had been granted, so I was not too worried he would retaliate. On December 23rd, 2019, I got a letter from the IRS stating that my application had gone through and that I would get FULL relief from the two years I applied jointly with him. NINETEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS was our debt; it was now solely his. I was no longer attached to that debt, and it felt amazing! This had been stressing me out more than all the legal stuff I was dealing with.
I know the old Sandy would be so proud of how far I’ve come along. There were so many times I just wanted to give up and felt like I was barely treading water, not making any progress. What I want to say to everyone out there is: don’t let financial burdens stop you from leaving your toxic situation. There is so many resources out there, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
*** DISCLAIMER: I’m not a lawyer. I’m only writing this to chronicle my experience with the IRS, and to higlight resources to those who need them. ***
If you need additional information on your Innocent Spouse Relief Claim, Injured Spouse Relief, the IRS toll free number is 1-855-851-2009.
For more information please visit these IRS website articles: