Stimulus Payments: A New Sore Spot for Survivors

I had to go to bed. It was dark behind those curtains at my kitchen table because it was late. But I left my laptop cracked open, knowing there would be more to do the minute I woke up.

The emails would come in while I slept — as others, worried about their safety and their finances and their ability to move forward, were kept awake searching for solutions and support.

I’ve had those nights, the wide-awake-with-worry-and-anxiety-even-though-I’m-a-new-kind-of-exhausted nights. They’re both long and short in the way only those nights can be. 

For Your Record, the non-profit I launched along with a board of smart, passionate, surviving and driven women in October, was suddenly noticed in a big way. And requests for assistance were pouring in, one after the other, tumbling over one another.

The stories were the same but different. They sounded like everything I knew and reminded me of some things I had forgotten as a survivor myself. And they shined a spotlight on a phrase and an issue that can’t be overlooked — because it’s incredibly timely and largely in the dark.

Post-separation abuse, for one. That’s the phrase, and that phrase aptly describes how abusers — right this minute — are leveraging divorce decrees and custody agreements to collect on stimulus payments they don’t deserve.

What does that all mean for people who don’t know? It means abusers who haven’t seen their kids or see them infrequently, or abusers who do nothing to financially support their children throughout the year are taking advantage of tax agreements signed at the time of a divorce (which may alternate years for the parents to claim children on their returns, for example) to collect stimulus payments and keep every last penny.

It’s financial abuse at its finest. Not illegal, but not ethical. It’s a move that is 100-percent self-centered and 100-percent retaliatory, traits that are hallmarks of abusive personalities and playbooks.

And it stings, bad. 

Especially because it hurts the people who aren’t doing anything wrong, who have been towing the line to keep all the dominoes upright, who put in the work and the effort every day and truly need the support — the ones who have paid the court fees to try and keep themselves and their kids safe only to experience a double financial whammy — being out cash to legal fees and out recourse to collect on stimulus payments designed to support the needs of families.

I’ve heard it over and over. Close, with friends. Really close, with my own situation. Again and again in those emails that cascaded over each other over the past 24 hours, from survivors struggling across the country. And, in the news, after a man bound by a protective order killed four people over a stimulus check that had been awarded to the mother of his child. 

What can be done? 

Probably nothing. Could any elected official responsible for approving or distributing these payments have seen this coming? Probably not. Maybe? But probably not.

Could survivors take their abusers to court to collect? I’d be surprised, and it would cost additional money to do so. But, the issue can be talked about, because it’s part of what survivors endure even after leaving.

It doesn’t end the day they leave. It continues in new ways. When control no longer exists, retaliation is its finest replacement.

What does it mean?

For starters, it means we see you, abusers. We know what you’re doing, and we’ll be honest — it’s not a good look. Like, you might not want to brag about it. 

And, we see you, survivors. We see what you’re going through. We know. We’re in tune with what’s happening.

It also means the need is greater than I could have imagined. Than likely anyone can imagine. It means For Your Record will do incredible good for deserving people, and even when it does, there will be more people in the queue, forming a line that curls around the corner and out of sight. 

We’re still fundraising, so that we can help people in the ways we have set out to — to cover the costs of court filing fees and public records request fees. But fundraising never stops. Not for something like this, abuse that terrorizes survivors while they’re in it and after they leave.

I’m at that kitchen table again, working on that computer again, answering pleas for help. And maybe this is a plea from our end — one that asks for greater understanding of the twisted and unfair situations survivors have to endure and one that asks for ongoing support with donations and introductions to donors who may feel compelled to help us with our mission.

Because there will be a lot of nights where we all get to go to sleep and not have to worry about our safety and our future while others stay up, searching for a beacon of support.