On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law an economic relief act that will result in the government issuing cash payments to millions of Americans. These stimulus payments are meant to provide support for Americans who are responsible for their own financial well being or that of another during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most Americans, who qualify based on income, will receive $1,200 per adult and $500 per child under the age of 17. Those who are 17 but still eligible to be claimed as a dependent on a parent’s tax return, will not receive a stimulus payment. The payments will be based on each person’s most recently filed tax return. Considering the extensions of 2019 tax filing deadlines, for some families this could mean 2018 tax returns and for others 2019 tax returns. The payments will automatically be deposited into the bank account associated with the tax return, if automatic deposit was used in the past.

Recently Divorced Couples:

For couples who were married at the time they filed their last tax return but have since divorced, this may create a situation where the stimulus money is being deposited into an account which is now owned solely by one party or the other. Securing your portion of the stimulus may require the assistance of an attorney.

There is also the question of who should retain the stimulus payment for the child or children if the last return was joint. Should the payment be split or should the custodial parent retain this payment? This is a new and emerging issue that the Swain Law Group Family Law Team will be watching in the coming weeks.

Individual Returns:

If you have been divorced long enough that your last returns were not filed jointly, you will receive your own portion of the stimulus directly. The legislation seems to indicate that the children’s portion of the stimulus will be paid to the parent who claimed the child as a dependent on the last tax return. Whether or not that is the most equitable outcome is another issue. Again, we will be monitoring our local courts for opinions on this topic. One additional unanswered question is what will happen if the parent claiming in even numbered years has only filed their 2018 return while the parent claiming in odd numbered years has already filed a 2019 return?

Couples Whose Divorces are Filed but not Final:

Typically, courts treat tax refunds as a marital asset to be divided equitably between the parties, if the refunds were earned prior to the date of filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage. Who should retain the stimulus payments or whether the funds should be equitably divided will be a fact sensitive question for courts and family law practitioners. Considering the purpose of these payments, the outcome may rest on who was shouldering the responsibility for supporting the family during the pandemic.

For more information and to have a conversation regarding this and other issues related to your ongoing family law situation, contact our office to schedule a remote consultation.

What This Means for Couples in Oklahoma?

As with many aspects of society during the Covid-19 pandemic, areas of the law are evolving quickly and our divorce attorneys are constantly learning new challenges that are resulting from both the federal stimulus bills as well as other ways that family law matters are affected by the virus.  For example, issues like custody calendars are also being litigated due to changes with school schedules as well as some parents not exchanging their children as stated in their decree.

Bottom line, whether your family law matter is in Oklahoma City, Norman, Pauls Valley, Chickasha, or anywhere else in Oklahoma, contact the Swain Law Group if you have questions about your specific situation.