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My boyfriend’s ex-wife claimed her sons as dependents and got their stimulus, despite losing full custody. What can we do?

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Dear Moneyist,

Perhaps you can lead me to the proper channels so I can take action. I am a mother to 5 young boys: 3 are biologically mine and, earlier this year, I received a $500 stimulus payment for each of them. Last year, my partner’s 2 young boys are living with us full time. We are not yet married, and he is not yet a U.S. citizen, despite serving 8 years in the U.S. Marines.

The mother of these 2 boys lost custody through the Department of Homeland Security, and has offered no support. Last year, she claimed the 2 boys on her taxes and, thus, received a stimulus check for both of them. My partner does not file taxes and, last year, I did not see a reason for me to file jointly as I already had 3 dependents.

So “The Mother of the Year” made out very well, and still offered no support. I have supported these boys for well over a year. What can I do? Where do I start?

Stepmother

Dear Stepmother,

Before I get into your question, focus on being “Stepmother of the Year” and leave it up to the gods to sit in judgement, and decide whether or not the mother of these 2 boys deserves a title, and what it should be. Who are we to decide? That said, I commend you on being there for these boys.

Your dilemma is not the first one of this kind. One husband actually refused to give the payment to his wife. That was a textbook case of financial abuse. Another husband filed a joint tax return and forged his estranged wife’s signature, and received her $1,200. That’s fraud.

Claiming false deductions is fraud. However, if your boyfriend’s ex-wife claimed the 2 boys last year and they were still living with her for over half of last year, that is likely a legitimate claim given that he does not file taxes, and their legal guardianship had not been ruled upon.

“When you knowingly claim a false dependent on your taxes, you risk sanctions and a potential audit from the IRS,” according to Communitytax.com. “Claiming false deductions like dependents is considered tax evasion and is, therefore, a felony with potentially severe criminal penalties.”

“However, the IRS will only consider alleging a malicious-dependent fraud if the taxpayer demonstrated willfulness . Without the intention, the offense is considered negligence. There are still penalties for neglect; it’s your responsibility to know the rules, but it’s not a crime,” the site says.

“Because you are technically filing your taxes under penalty of perjury, everything you claim has to be true, or you can be charged with penalty of perjury,” it adds. “Failing to be honest by claiming a false dependent could result in 3 years of prison and fines up to $250,000.”

Depending on how all that shakes out, you have some options, including a refund trace or Form 3911, a taxpayer advocate service with the IRS that has remote workers at law schools working to help people in situations such as yours, and legal aid.

If you are not a legal guardian of these children, and your partner does not file taxes, he will likely have to seek out legal counsel himself, and talk through the options of claiming these children as dependents. Filing a tax return is a good place to start.

Good luck. It sounds like these 2 children are getting the love and the support they need during a period of change that must be very difficult for them. A child only needs one parent who is present, provides boundaries and love, and it sounds like these boys have two.

You agree to your emailed letter to the Moneyist will be published here anonymously. It may be edited for style and space.

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