Tax Tips for Survivors of Domestic Violence

Mother looking away from camera holds her baby in her arms.

By Jen Fletcher, 2017 Get It Back Campaign Intern

Last updated January 17, 2024

Leaving an abusive partner can be a difficult decision, especially when dealing with financial insecurity or economic hardship. Fortunately, survivors of domestic violence can safely file their taxes and take steps towards financial independence with support. Here are five things you should know about tax time.

1. File a tax return even if you don’t have a filing requirement

Filing a tax return is important to help build financial stability. Even if you earn less than the income amount that is required to file a tax return, you could benefit by receiving a tax refund. You may qualify for tax benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

If you are married to an abusive partner and have not legally divorced, you can file a tax return as “Married Filing Separately.” People who file as “Married Filing Separately” may qualify for the EITC and CTC. However, this filing status means you might not qualify for other credits and benefits. Regardless, filing taxes may put you in a better position to claim tax benefits later.

2. See if you qualify for 2021 tax credit expansions

The 2021 American Rescue Plan included multiple temporary one-year tax credit changes which you can still claim if you are eligible. The 2021 expanded Child Tax Credit is worth up to $3,600 for each child under 6 years old, and $3,000 for each child between 6 and 17 years old. There is no minimum income to qualify for this credit. You can claim this credit if you have a Social Security number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Children claimed must have an SSN.

The 2021 expanded EITC is worth up to $1,500 for workers not raising children or up to $6,700 for workers raising children in their home. You must have earnings from a job to be eligible for this credit. If you are married, you must file taxes with your spouse to claim this credit. You, your spouse, and children must have SSNs.

If who were eligible for the 2021 expanded Child Tax Credit or the 2021 expanded Earned Income Tax Credit and didn’t claim them can file a 2021 tax return by April 18, 2025. Claiming these tax credits offers may help lead to greater financial independence for you and the children under your care. Click here to learn more about filing prior years taxes.

The government also delivered three rounds of stimulus checks which you can still claim if you were eligible and didn’t receive them.

3. Check to see if your state has an Address Confidentiality Program

If you are concerned that an abuser could find you through the address on your tax return, there are privacy protections to help keep you safe. Applying for an Address Confidentiality Program allows you to set up an alternate mailing address (often a post office box).

This program also offers other privacy safeguards that can protect your tax return and public documents. Search to see if your state has an Address Confidentiality Program here.

In addition, domestic violence shelters and other service providers (such as Community Action Agency or Salvation Army) may allow survivors to use their address for tax purposes.

4. Find out if you are eligible for special tax relief

Many abusive partnerships involve some amount of financial control. You may have signed a joint tax return without fully knowing or understanding the details. Different forms of tax relief are available if you have a tax-related concern that involves an abusive spouse or former spouse.

Innocent spouse relief: reduces or removes a spouse’s liability on a joint return in certain cases.

Injured spouse relief: releases a spouse from liability for certain past-due tax debts that come from the other spouse.

Separation of liability: divides tax liability based on ability to pay for spouses who are legally separated or no longer married.

Equitable relief: divides tax liability based on the adjusted gross income of each spouse but does not clear either spouse of the total liability. (Note: adjusted gross income (AGI) is income from wages, dividends, retirement distributions, etc. minus adjustments such as student loan interest, alimony payments, or retirement contributions.)

Reasonable cause relief: removes the responsibility to file a tax return or pay penalties if you can present evidence showing why you were unable to do so on time.

Not everyone qualifies for these forms of relief. In most cases, you will need tax documents from past years. If these documents aren’t readily available, applying for tax relief may be a long and complex process.

5. Get free or low-cost help

Some VITA sites offer year-round services and can help you file prior year tax returns. They may also help you amend a tax return you already filed to correct a mistake so that you get the tax benefits that you qualify for.

If you are eligible for special tax relief or need help with other domestic violence matters, free or low-cost help is available. Options include Low Income Taxpayer Clinics, the Taxpayer Advocate Service, or Legal Aid. (Note: most VITA sites are not trained to help with the tax relief options described above.)

Free virtual tax filing is also available through Code for America’s Get Your Refund service. This service offers free tax help for individuals who earn less than $66,000. This is a free and safe option to prepare your tax return from your home.

There are other resources that can help you build economic security beyond tax time. Many VITA sites and community organizations offer programs to help with budgeting, saving, wealth-building, and career development. These programs can offer important tools for building financial independence.


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