How to get the tax info of an uncooperative spouse?
March 23, 2007 9:54 PM   Subscribe

My very close friend's soon-to-be ex-husband is being extremely vindictive. Does he have a legal leg to stand on?

One of my closest friends, E, is currently going through a divorce. If memory serves, it will be final in May. E and R have a three month old daughter (they got married because she was pregnant, probably not a good idea in the first place) whom E has custody of. R is in the military and not paying child support. R has kept their daughter a total of one night, ever. They are not on good terms at all, and what led to E walking out on him was R threatening her life. She's now back with her parents, working, and going back to school.

E started going back to school six months or so ago, and when filing for financial aid, filed as married. Now, she needs to file tax information with her school, and R refuses to give his tax info to her. Supporting her daughter and her car insurance, phone, etc., she cannot afford school without financial aid. She cannot get financial aid without R's tax info. I'm sure you can see the predicament.

Since he is in the military, E intended to call his commander about it. This morning, however, E received a cease and desist letter in the mail from R's lawyer, describing her behavior as "stalking" and saying that if she ever contacts R's employer again, she will be issued a restraining order. (E has contacted his commander twice before, once when R threatened to not return their daughter, and once when she needed to find out how to have the military begin garnishing child support from R's paycheck.)

So, I guess my question is twofold. First of all, how can she go about getting the tax information she needs from R? Second of all, is this cease and desist letter any good? Can she really be stopped from contacting R's commander, and can contacting her twice in the past really be considered stalking and harassment of R?

I apologize if I have left out any details and I will be sure to clarify anything that is unclear. We're in Virginia, if that makes any difference.
posted by srrh to Law & Government (24 answers total)
You know that you're just going to get a whole bunch of people saying "Contact a lawyer" ... right?

Since the military is involved, that makes the "contact a lawyer" statements pretty good ones.
posted by drstein at 10:03 PM on March 23, 2007

Oh yes! That is one thing I forgot to mention in my post. She does have a lawyer, but I thought I would ask here first for general advice because money is incredibly tight for her and he will not offer her free consults.
posted by srrh at 10:13 PM on March 23, 2007

I am NOT a lawyer. I'm not her lawyer. She needs to talk to her lawyer. Put together a legal defense fund with her bank or something for her and have all your friends chip in the cost of a latte every few weeks or something (that's what we did for a friend in a similar situation...)

That being said -- the C&D was probably to start documenting, for better or for worse, any 'off' behaviour so that when it gets down to negotiating the final settlement, the hubbie's lawyer can wave the letter in her lawyer's or a judge's face.

Things that would be helpful to know before this question can be answered with any definition?
* What state is the divorce happening in?
---- Some states have stalking statutes or AG's opinions, some don't. A restraining order needs to comply with one of these statues or it's own statute.
* Is there any history that can be documented of any other 'stalkerish' behaviour?
---- Depending on the answer to question A, the burden of proof to acquire a restraining order will be different.

And since I'm not a lawyer ... a sub-question to one: does or can the UCMJ (which has ethics guidelines) apply to his behaviour?

FYI: Generally all of the knowledge you need is on the internet somewhere enclosed in the state's laws, which are published online. If you can find the section on marriages and then (!!IMPORTANT!!) find the AG's opinions on those particular statues (also generally online, but you might have to visit a courthouse (-- free --) to read them because they may not be online for *free*, since the state AG's offices generally charge lawyers money for them.)
posted by SpecialK at 10:32 PM on March 23, 2007

Oh, and last thing: To provoke her, his attorney may get a *temporary* restraining order against her. This means that a judge hasn't reviewed it yet and he still has to go before a judge. Tell her that it is NOT the end of the world, it is NOT a problem, they give those things out like candy, and the worst thing in the world that she could possibly do for herself, her future, and her children would be to violate it. Even if he has the kids and the restraining order is a blanket one that somehow prevents her from seeing her kids -- it probably won't stand, and she just needs to be PATIENT, CALM, and RESPONSIBLE -- because being those three things will get her more respect from any judge when she gets up during the restraining order hearing and tearfully tells him that she's been a good girl and followed the law because she's responsible but she just wants to see her kids -- divorce judges eat that stuff up, but any sign of irresponsibilty is like a death sentence.
posted by SpecialK at 10:37 PM on March 23, 2007

You say her school needs this info, not FAFSA. Has she exhausted the consultation opportunities though the school regarding this? She should be allowed to re-file, I think.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:44 PM on March 23, 2007

Can she talk to the financial aid people and tell them to change her status to single because she is divorcing and isn't getting any support from the estranged husband?

If he has threatened her life, she should have as little interaction with him as possible -- see if the people in financial aid can facilitate that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:44 PM on March 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

First of all, how can she go about getting the tax information she needs from R?

If he does not give it up voluntarily, she will not be able to compel him to do so without getting a court order.

She will not be able to do this without consulting a lawyer (her lawyer, most likely).

She will not be able to do this without shelling out money.

Since he is in the military, E intended to call his commander about it.

This is wholly inappropriate.
posted by oaf at 10:48 PM on March 23, 2007

My advice is only anecdotal, and I am ABSOLUTELY not a lawyer, but:

The military really, really, really frowns upon soldiers/Marines/sailors/airmen/whatever shirking child support.

His lawyer's cease and desist seems to be ridiculous. Is there a law against contacting someone's employer and saying that he's a deadbeat dad? I have the gut feeling that it's a scare tactic and nothing more.

I know money is tight, but perhaps she can work out a payment plan with the lawyer once the father is required to pay child support, as he is legally obligated to do?

Good luck.
posted by kdar at 10:53 PM on March 23, 2007

is this cease and desist letter any good?

What do you mean? A cease and desist letter from a lawyer isn't any different from some random asshole sending you a letter saying "Stop that!"

In this case, it's hard to see what she has to lose by contacting his CO again (and being sure to describe the lawyer's letter). Again IANAL, but consider the possibilities:

(1) She complies. Then she doesn't contact the CO.
(2) She doesn't comply and contacts the CO, and nothing happens because it was all hot air and bullshit on the lawyer's part. Then she can contact the CO a next time.
(3) She doesn't comply, and contacts the CO. The lawyer asks for a restraining order, and at the hearing loses. Then she can contact the CO again if she wants to, but is out some legal fees.
(4) She doesn't comply, and contacts the CO. The lawyer asks for a restraining order, and she just doesn't contest it. Here, she's no worse off than in (1), *and* she got one more contact with the CO out of it.
(5) She doesn't comply, and contacts the CO. The lawyer asks for the restraining order and the judge grants it. Then she's basically back at (1), but had to pay legal fees, *but* she got one more contact with the CO than she would have if she'd just complied.

Can she really be stopped from contacting R's commander

By a judge, except maybe for temporary restraining orders that only last until a hearing. Not by some lawyer's say-so.

If they're still legally married at the moment, it seems difficult to believe that any sane judge would consider asking for tax information to be harrassment.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:53 PM on March 23, 2007

This is wholly inappropriate.

It would be inappropriate to ask a normal employer to pressure an employee. The military is not a normal employer, and has considerable authority over the family relations and other aspects of the "private lives" of its men and women. Dealing with this sort of thing is, AFAIK (which is not very far) a normal part of commanding people in the military.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:00 PM on March 23, 2007

The military is not a normal employer

That does not make her request more appropriate. She's more likely to have success begging the financial-aid office for help, or just trying from the outset to force him to turn over the information in court. Contacting the CO over something that does not involve the military at all does not make sense, and is likely to make R less cooperative, in which case she will get nothing out of him except through lawyers.

Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to have an easy way out of this.
posted by oaf at 11:15 PM on March 23, 2007

IANAL. But I have been divorced. It's a tough transition for most families that go through it, and rarely is their any "justice" for either party. Divorce is not about justice, it's about changing the lowest common denominator level of communication and responsibility, and keeping people from being crazy in the future, if possible. Wrongs aren't usually righted.

Your friend, according to you, has an attorney, and my best advice is that she listen to the attorney's advice, and do exactly as she is told, by her attorney, and take no other advice or action. A divorce attorney earns money for the legal advice and work they provide during a divorce, but neither the law or the best efforts of the attorney can make either party in a divorce reasonable or tractable. Attorneys expect to be paid for their services, and should be. In some circumstances, they can try to recover their fees from the other party, but ultimately, their fees are the responsibility of their client. I don't advise that your friend try to suddenly start doing her own legal work, or start trying to initiate processes without informing her attorney, and paying the attorney's fees. Nothing screws up a divorce case faster than an unpaid attorney. If she wants, from her perspective, to best "protect" herself and her daughter, in a situation of limited finances, she may need to postpone school, press forward with the divorce by keeping her focus and keeping current with her attorney, and return to school once the domestic situation is resolved, and her income and expense situations are stabilized.

But if she's absolutely insistent on pressing ahead with her education at this stressful point in life, I think all your friend really needs to do with respect to educational financial aid, is to change her tax status to "married filing seperately" (possibly filing an amended return for the last tax year) and file an updated FAFSA. That's a pretty common step in divorce cases where one party is a student, and no longer depends on the income of the other. She can have her attorney notify the other party of this change, which may result in changes for his tax liability for the prior year, too.

Child support issues should be handled through the court clerk of the civil jurisdiction where the divorce is filed. There is not only no need to try contacting the military spouse's commander directly, but there is nothing to be done by the command chain, absent the due process involved in first filing with the civil authorities. Once that's been done, service of notice on the obligation will generally be automatic, and cost her, at most, service costs, although in many jurisdictions, the sherriffs or police authorities handle child support warrants and garnishments for free, on a best effort basis. She can check with the court services office, or the court clerk, regarding procedures in her jurisdiction.

Many times, divorce attorneys allow frustration to build with their clients, to encourage eventual compromise. There is no way to talk an enraged client into being reasonable, but a tired, emotionally spent client will often meet another tired, emotionally spent client "halfway," just to be done with the divorce. That's when compromise is possible, and good divorce attorney's know that. If your friend gets to that point quickly, herself, her attorney may well sense that, have a chat with the other side, and things may move quickly. Or not, depending on the remaining intransigence of the other party.

In another arena, as a divorcing spouse of a military member, she is "leaving the family" insofar as the military is concerned, and if she is granted full custody, so will her child. She'll no longer be the dependent of a military member, and perhaps, neither will the child, which can affect eligibility for certian benefits. Moreover, she'll see far less cooperation of the service in pursuing her requests for information about the status of the service member and communication with the service member.

Good luck to your friend with all this. It's never an easy or transparent process, especially when ongoing emotions, past and current actions, and children are involved.
posted by paulsc at 11:16 PM on March 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Thanks for all the helpful advice so far. I said above that we live in VA, but it was at the bottom so it may have gone unnoticed. I also wish I could give more details (I am not sure exactly if it is FAFSA/the feds or her school itself that needs the tax info, but I do think it's the school, for example), but I'm going on what I do know without her around at the moment to clarify things. I'll give her a heads up to this thread (she has no mefi account) next time I speak to her and see what she wants to add.

Also, to SpecialK: Like I said above, we are in VA. To answer your other question, the only "stalking" behavior I know of would be from him to her, NOT the other way around. She has saved literally dozens if not hundreds of aggressive text messages and voicemails from him, but I don't think she has initiated any encounters with him in a couple of months (since she left).

Finally, to oaf, I am not sure if you are in a military family, but, as ROU_Xenophobe said above, the military is not a normal employer in any way. The military often seems to be more of a way of life than just a job. Dealing with this sort of thing is, AFAIK (which is not very far) a normal part of commanding people in the military. -- Having grown up in this environment, I can assure you that this is the case.
posted by srrh at 11:19 PM on March 23, 2007

There is a lot of information available to her, and a lot of help available to women in her situation for little or no money. When I was divorcing the father of my kids, I could no more pay a lawyer than I could pay an architect -- I still got divorced. IANAL myself, obviously.

Couple thoughts:
  1. I was greatly helped by my ex's willingness to work with me. If any sacrifice of pride can get your friend's husband to agree to deal with her, either directly or through a mutually trusted adviser -- his sister? A mutual friend? -- it seems worth a try. Right now, she's got the baby, but he's got all the other aces. When your own position is strong, you grind your enemy into the dirt; when it is weak, you negotiate. She wants to negotiate, if there is any way to bring him to the table.
  2. Every public library has the wonderful Nolo Press books -- they're like TurboTax for divorce, they make it that simple. I did my own divorce, without lawyers, by using their book.
  3. She has no business calling his job. She didn't mean any harm, but she can't do stuff like that: it is harassment, because it makes her ex look bad at his job, and the job is not allowed to tell her anything useful anyway.
  4. All of this stuff will sort itself out. Deep breath, relax, give it time. Whatever info she thinks she needs from him, can be got another way (Nolo knows how).
  5. The most important thing: Obviously she is hurting and angry and not a big fan of her ex right now, but she wants to remember that how the divorce goes will have a huge impact on her ex's relationship with her daughter -- she does not want to make dealing with her so onerous that he is discouraged from having a role in his daughter's life. She has been a mom for 9 + 3 months, he has been a dad for only 3 months, some part of which was utter hell, and, except for one night, none of it was one-on-one. She wants to show him that their daughter is just as much his as hers, and that she will never play power games over their daughter. She wants to be exceedingly generous with the visitation. To a guy, I think this makes the difference between your kid being your kid, and your kid being only a bill. A kid does not want to be a bill. Good luck to her. It will all work out in the end.

posted by Methylviolet at 11:21 PM on March 23, 2007

Virginia's statutes appear to require R to have a fear of "death, criminal sexual assault, or bodily injury," and for E to intend to instill this fear in him, or have reasonable knowledge that her actions might cause such, in order for it to be stalking. Unless the CO threatened R with a beating, I don't see how that's stalking on E's part.

On preview, because a lot of things got posted while I was typing this:
she may need to postpone school, press forward with the divorce by keeping her focus and keeping current with her attorney, and return to school once the domestic situation is resolved, and her income and expense situations are stabilized.

This. E should avoid stretching herself too thin.

Having grown up in this environment, I can assure you that this is the case.

I can tell you that anything they (E and R) do that could possibly considered by the other party to be a provocation will be considered one, and how. Contacting the CO instead of having her lawyer talk to his lawyer is probably not the best course of action.
posted by oaf at 11:31 PM on March 23, 2007

Just so your friend knows, child support enforcement (wage garnishment) is handled by the state, not the employer. Because IANAL, I have no idea whether or not it is harassment if she calls the employer about non-payment of child support. However, I feel pretty confident that it would be a waste of her time and her time/energy will be better spent dealing with the state.
posted by necessitas at 11:54 PM on March 23, 2007

child support enforcement (wage garnishment) is handled by the state, not the employer.

I don't think this is true for the military (info, more). But it doesn't look like the CO is the one to be contacting.
posted by advil at 1:04 AM on March 24, 2007

Advil has that part right, and the links in that post give a good overview. Additional general info on military divorce can be found here.

Military divorces are governed by both state AND federal law, and have a few twists not found in civilian divorces.

It didn't sound like part of your initial question but as it has come up, a garnishment to a military member's pay for child support has to be court ordered and then the order has to be filed through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. If your friend's lawyer is experienced with military divorces, it's unlikely the lawyer isn't aware of this, and hopefully has explained how this works to her. If your friend's lawyer is not experienced in handling military divorces, she needs to find a new (military-divorce-experienced) lawyer immediately. Additionally, she may have other financial and support options available to her at the military member's duty station - a call to the JAG office there and/or the MWR facility can point her to additional agencies that are there to help.

IANAL, but I am a military spouse. Calling a commanding officer will sometimes result in the response one is looking for, if a CO 1) cares enough to follow up on the situation until it is resolved, and 2) has the ability to affect whether or not 1) is possible. CO's and NCO's do get calls on their soldiers personal problems with some frequency...myriad are the ways soldiers, especially young soldiers, can get into difficulty. Generally speaking though, calling a commanding officer only pisses off said CO and often results in the military member getting verbally chewed up and spit out...especially if the soldier in question holds a rank higher than private. This isn't because the CO is on the side of the caller (although the CO may be), it's because he/she is having to deal with a soldier's personal problems.

This is exactly the type of situation she hired a lawyer to handle. She should contact her lawyer and give him/her the C&D letter, discuss her options, make her decisions, and go from there.
posted by faineant at 2:47 AM on March 24, 2007

A good friend of mine was in a similar situation regarding the tax information - his asshole father didn't think he should go to college and refused to provide any of the information necessary for the financial aid application. My friend explained the situation to the financial aid director at the university and played him a voicemail in which his father (drunkenly) expounded on all the reasons why he wouldn't do anything to help him pay for college or get financial aid. The FA director changed my friend's status to independent instead of dependent and he was able to get all kinds of grants and loans and six years later he is now working as a TA and getting his doctorate.

The financial aid director at her university can help her. Just tell her to bring in documentation of what she has done to get the ex to cooperate and the director should be able to change her status or arrange for her to re-file as single.
posted by cilantro at 4:15 AM on March 24, 2007

If she's (for now) married to someone who's on active duty with the military, she can talk to a military lawyer for advice on the child support situation. (I'm assuming he's in the US military, things will vary in other countries.) In the Army, this is done through the legal assistance section of the office of the staff judge advocate on any nearby post; I believe that the other services have similar arrangements.

Military lawyers can and do contact the commanders of spouses to ensure that child and spousal support gets paid. In my day, the rule was that if you were married and living separately, the solder was required to provide financial support to his/her spouse at least in the amount of the Basic Allowance for Quarters (BAQ) for the soldier's rank.

So (as faineant said), the best thing for her to do would be to talk to someone at the JAG office. They probably won't handle the actual divorce, but they can deal with support issues and refer her to a lawyer who knows the wrinkles that apply to military divorces.
posted by Zonker at 7:40 AM on March 24, 2007

Since she's a student, she is likely to be eligible for whatever student legal aid the University offers.

All states and many cities have legal aid offices. Since she left because of her fear of violence, she should be able to get help from them.

She should try to get the Financial Aid Office to help her.
posted by theora55 at 6:49 PM on March 24, 2007

I can't speak to the legal issues, but please do have your friend speak to the financial aid office about her situation. When I was a student my father (divorced, non-custodial) was required to fill out certain forms as part of my aid decisions - every year my mother had to go back to the staff and explain "he's never going to fill out these forms, he's not giving us any money for her education" and every year they'd go "okay, fine" and pass me some scholarships. She did have to be the squeaky wheel, but it worked. Your friend can almost certainly get the same kind of consideration, especially if she can provide documentation that the divorce is in process.
posted by marginaliana at 7:44 AM on March 26, 2007

If she's in the process of going through a divorce then wouldn't recent tax documents be a reasonable thing to request in discovery? I realize she doesn't want to involve the lawyer more than she has to, however as an investment this is well worth it - a few hours of lawyer time to send a request for production of documents is necessary for her to get a much higher financial aid number. Spend the money.
posted by phearlez at 2:09 PM on March 26, 2007

Echo for the folks pointing out that military is different. It really is. The deck is stacked largely in the favor of the estranged wife, where the issues matter to her at present (at least, it was 20 years ago, I doubt it's changed much. Friend of mine was divorced while serving).
posted by Goofyy at 3:20 AM on March 28, 2007

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