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The Moneyist: ‘I was discarded after 40 years of marriage’: Can my ex-husband file a joint tax return without my consent? He tried to take both my stimulus checks

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Dear Moneyist,

I’m 62 years of age, I have stopped working and I am currently receiving Social Security. My ex-husband is intending to file a joint tax return, and told me straight out that he does not intend to give me any of our joint tax return, because he said that I am no longer working. What can I do about this? I was discarded after 40 years of marriage.

He also tried to keep my $600, but I was ready for him. I persuaded him to pay for a washer and dryer and I managed to get my $1,200 stimulus by the skin of my teeth. I took the $1,200 out while divorce proceedings were occurring and I still had bank access. (He got angry, but I still managed to get the better of him.)

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Last year, while we were still married, he filed our joint return electronically against my wishes and without me knowing, and deposited the tax return in his bank account. Our divorce was finalized last November, so I no longer have access to his bank account.

Do I have any legal right to the return? Can he file a return without my consent, and with no signature? How do I get the IRS to recognize me as a separate person for any stimulus that comes my way in 2021? I assume the IRS will use my 2020 tax return? I got a five-figure settlement from him in our divorce instead of alimony. Do I have to file taxes on the settlement?

Discarded After 40 Years

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Dear Discarded,

You have asked me a lot of questions, and I will endeavor to answer them. Before I do, however, I want to offer two pieces of advice: Firstly, file a 2020 return. Secondly, hire an accountant to go over your finances. It can be a difficult transition when someone else — namely, your ex-husband — has been taking care of the finances and filing your tax returns. 

Thirdly, it’s time to cut the emotional and fiscal connection to your ex. If you don’t want him to file joint returns, don’t hit him up for money for a washer and dryer. Your divorce has been finalized. That’s as good a time as any to not depend on him for anything. Any time he does you a favor, even if it’s something he owes you, it complicates your newfound freedom.

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As for the IRS, you can verify your identity with the agency here. The phone lines are open, but customer-service support is limited at this time. You can select your state for the Taxpayer Advocate Service here, and report fraud here. It’s possible to file a joint tax return when you are still going through a divorce, but he should have sought your signature to do so.

Is your divorce settlement taxable? Such questions are best answered by your divorce attorney prior to your divorce to minimize your tax liability. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated deductions for alimony payments. Whether or not divorce settlements are taxable can depend on how they are structured; read more on that here.

The time has come to take matters into your own hands: Contact the IRS, file a tax return, talk to an accountant, circle back with your attorney, stop playing games of cat and mouse with your husband over stimulus checks and washers and dryers, and warn him that it is illegal to file a joint return without your consent. Tell him you will take action if he does.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected].

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The Moneyist: ‘I was discarded after 40 years of marriage’: Can my ex-husband file a joint tax return without my consent? He tried to take both my stimulus checks

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