The Moneyist: My husband refuses to give me my stimulus check. He says that I don’t deserve it because I didn’t earn it. What can I do?
‘It is outrageous that a spouse would share liability for tax debt, but not share in the refund.’ What legal recourse does this woman have?
My husband refuses to give me my stimulus check from his savings account. We filed taxes jointly, but I’m not listed on the checking account. I have a checking account, and he has his own checking account. He says that I don’t deserve it because I didn’t earn it. What is my best course of action?
This is a textbook case of financial abuse. In fact, here is a direct quote from the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Financial abuse happens when an abuser takes control of finances to prevent the other person from leaving and to maintain power in a relationship. An abuser may take control of all the money, withhold it, and conceal financial information from the victim.” You are inside of it, so you not be able to see it for what it is.
He has no legal right to keep your money. I don’t see any compassion, trust or respect in his actions — just some of the hallmarks of a loving relationship. Financial abuse is a form of domestic violence. Not all scars are visible, many are psychological and have the same insidious effect: to control and subdue another person. You need a plan. You can’t see the bars on your window. After this pandemic is over, here’s the good news: You can walk through them, if you want to.
If you filed jointly, you share the refund. “Even if your husband earns more money, there is a tax benefit of claiming two deductions — one for each spouse — on the returns,” says David Waltzer, a New York-based lawyer. “That increases the refund. So, without you, there would certainly be less of a refund. Also, if there were a tax liability — money owed to the IRS — you would be on the hook. So it is outrageous that a spouse would share liability for tax debt, but not share in the refund.
“It might be valuable to look at equitable distribution principles that apply to divorced couples,” Waltzer said. “The premise is that if one spouse earns more, the other spouse is entitled to some of the value from those earnings. Why? Because it is presumed that the lower-earning spouse is contributing in other ways, maybe with household management, laundry, food, shopping etc.. That contribution (sweat equity) supports and frees the earning spouse to make the money.”
Not only do these principles apply to your stimulus check, but Waltzer says there is even a stronger case for the equal division of stimulus checks. “They are supposed to be $1,200 per person, for example. So if a $2,400 check arrives into one spouse’s account, $1,200 of that belongs to the other spouse. Lastly, even if none of the above convinces your husband, tell him to be a mensch and not a grinch and to stop giving you a hard time — just out of sheer decency and love.”
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That’s the legal opinion on your case, with some free relationship advice thrown in for good measure. You are in a difficult position during this lockdown. You could call your husband’s bank, but if the account is in his name, it will be difficult — if not near impossible — to persuade a bank to transfer that money to your account. The Internal Revenue Service is sending out millions of stimulus payments to people, so I’d be very surprised if they were able to send another one to you separately.
Your best course of action for now: Keep notes of all of these events with dates, and other details, and use them to motivate yourself to take action when the economy starts up again. You can also use this time to consult a family attorney in your area to explore your options. Are you happy in your marriage? Is your husband’s refusal to give you your stimulus check some kind of aberration? You are the best one to answer that. If not, you not only have a right to that $1,200 stimulus payment, you also have a right to be happy. But only you can make that happen.
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