National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault

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Economic Justice: Taxes,the Internal Revenue Service and Sexual Assault


If the victim is married to her abuser, there may be many negative, financial repercussions.  


Many men who physically abuse their partners, including raping or sexually abusing their partners, also engage in financial abuse.  Financial abuse can include such broad-sweeping actions as:


conf1preventing victims from working outside of the home; forcing victims to ask for money and/or giving them a fixed allowance and demanding detailed accounting (e.g. by presenting receipts);


conf1maintaining sole access and control over bank accounts;


conf1keeping victims completely and deliberately uninformed or misinformed about financial resources (e.g. any property, livestock, retirement accounts, stocks, income from part-time jobs or crafts);


conf1and requiring or forcing victims to sign (without reviewing or understanding) or forging victims’ signatures on important financial documents such as income tax returns.

Further, many couples file a joint tax return, even if they are going through a divorce or separation.  Although it is unfair, the victim/wife can still be held responsible for all of the taxes due even though the abuser/husband may have earned all the income. The victim/wife can still be held responsible by the IRS even if there is a divorce with a court order holding an abuser/husband “responsible for any amounts due on previously filed joint returns.”  Court agreements are only binding as to the parties to the divorce. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can hold the innocent spouse accountable for all of the abuser/husband’s tax mistakes.


Luckily, there are several avenues for tax relief for innocent spouses.  First, the innocent spouse may be eligible for Innocent Spouse Relief through the IRS.  This form of relief is not easy to prove.  The victim must establish that she did not know or have reason to know of a mistake with the couple’s tax returns.  Moreover, the fact that he typically did all the tax returns and she just signed them is generally not enough for her to escape liability.  Other methods the victim can employ to escape the tax mistakes or crimes committed by her abuser-spouse include: relief from liability arising from community property law; other equitable relief; or a request for separation of liability. 


By: Hallie Bongar White
© 2013 Southwest Center for Law and Policy and Office on Violence Against Women, United States Department of Justice

National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault, a project by the Southwest Center for Law and Policy © 2019

This project was supported by  Grant No. 2011-TA-AX-K045 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women. Points of view in this document are those of the author and do not necessary represent the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice. All rights reserved. | Privacy policy   Login