Delays for Injured Spouses' Checks Compound Virus Woes

May 19, 2020

Past-due child support is the only reason the Internal Revenue Service can offset the economic impact payments that Congress approved in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

In some cases, however, the IRS has garnished payments that should have gone to so-called injured spouses or spouses who filed a joint tax return with a partner who has past-due child support obligations and had their share of the payment withheld by the agency.

Even under normal circumstances, however, it can take several months for the IRS to process an injured spouse refund claim. That delay will dampen the efficacy of the payments, which are meant to provide immediate relief from the economic fallout from the pandemic. The agency hasn't said how long it will take to resolve the problem. 

Karen Ward, director of the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic at Indiana Legal Services, said her clinic has seen 10 to 15 clients about the issue, several of whom didn't file Form 8379 with their 2018 or 2019 returns, though they did file it separately. 

Ward said the main unresolved question for her is what will happen with the forms that either weren't filed with 2018 or 2019 returns or weren't filed because the taxpayer wasn't due a refund in those years. 

"Do they have to wait until [tax year] 2020 and they file their returns to reconcile it or is there any way to get the money beforehand?" Ward asked.

Bob Probasco, director of the low-income tax clinic at Texas A&M University School of Law, said the problems with the economic impact payments are a result of the IRS not identifying all potential issues and working out solutions for them ahead of time. 

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