How should stimulus money handled during a Pennsylvania divorce?
If you receive the stimulus check payable to you and your long-estranged spouse, you’ll be faced with weighing your need for the money – such as feeding your kids – against the possible problems with which you may have to deal for not doing what you know is right.
I recently had a client call me because she had received a $2400.00 stimulus check from Uncle Sam, payable to her and her spouse. Her spouse had moved out months ago. She wanted to know both what she should do and what she could do. Very, very interesting.
I asked her what she thought she SHOULD do. Being an honest person, there was only one answer: Deposit the entire check into her account and mail her spouse’s half to him. I asked her if her spouse, as a matter of record, owed her any money. I said “as a matter of record” because it would be easy to come up with many reasons why a spouse would owe you money, like “He was abusive toward me” or “He promised to finally buy me a wedding ring but never did.” Inasmuch as those points are at least arguable and difficult to translate into dollars, they cannot be considered “of record”. But if he was behind in his Court-ordered child or spousal support or if you had paid off his online gambling account, it may well be perfectly lawful to make a deduction from his stimulus share. I say “may be” because your divorce is a state court matter and the stimulus money is from the federal government who may frown upon your hijacking COVID stimulus funds intended for someone else. Stimulus money is provided for the purpose of stimulating the economy, the USA lawyer might argue, and not for paying off debts your spouse owed you. On the other hand, the federal government also understands that you had been stimulating the economy with your credit card and likely would expect you to use the money to pay down your VISA account.
It’s unlikely that your spouse would find it useful or practical to engage a lawyer to sue you for the $1200.00. No attorney would accept such a small case for 40% of what might be recovered from you, and your spouse would not part with a $2000.00 retainer fee to try to collect $1200.00. But your spouse might be angry enough to report you to the government for stealing his money. Then YOU might need a lawyer! Of course, the government has millions of other, much larger fish to fry and it may have little or no interest in pursuing such a case… and there could well be thousands upon thousands of such cases. Let’s face it. Many people would not think twice about pocketing the entire $2400 and then denying to their spouses ever receiving it.
In any event, your lawyer is ethically bound to advise you to “do the right thing”. It is up to you to follow that advice or not and possibly be called upon to pay the piper in the future.