MAINE, USA — Imagine a married couple who filed a joint tax return in 2018 and had their refund direct deposited into their joint bank account. 

Then imagine that same couple getting divorced in 2019, and no longer share that bank account.

What happens to the stimulus money? 

"It might land in an ex-spouses bank account which is not good" Heather Whiting, a family law attorney with MittelAsen in Portland, said.

Whiting is hoping people will be able to resolve these issues on their own.

"What i'm hoping is just by agreement people will share those stimulus checks."

That includes people currently going through a divorce.

"Typically what happens is they agree to file jointly for that year and share any tax refund or liability so i'm hoping since that is typically how it is handled people will share by agreement."

But divorces aren't always typical. And neither is COVID-19

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Whiting says this issue has already come up for one of her clients. Fortunately she could call and talk to the ex-spouse's attorney but that's not always the case. 

"It's the cases where there is not an attorney to talk to or you have a really difficult client who feels for whatever reason they are entitled to it."

Whiting says court is always an option but it's costly and like so much else right now, the courts are closed.

"There are things we can file post divorce and hope they'll be heard but it's going to be a cost benefit situation. Is it really worth it?"

The $500 stimulus payment for each child will go to the parent who claimed the child as a dependent in the most recent tax return.

For people who filed married last year and claimed the kids as a married couple but are now divorced--Whiting recommends sharing the stimulus money, if they share residency of the kids.

Whiting says this is a difficult time for everyone and people should just "try to do the right thing."

 "This is unprecedented, it's totally uncharted territory for everyone including family law attorneys."

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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