SAN ANTONIO – Tax season can be daunting for the average American, but the level of stress it causes domestic violence victims is astronomical.
Financial control plays a big role in domestic violence, which is why an abuse survivor is thankful for a memo the IRS put out three months ago.
The story is part of KSAT's One Voice, 1,000 Stories series on domestic violence.
Mother and abuse survivor Mariluz Resendiz said it all started with isolation.
"I started to notice there was a pattern of control, starting to alienate me from my family," Resendiz said.
Resendiz said her abuser then began reeling in control of the finances.
"We built a company together, and he wouldn't let me have any access to the business, to the investment I had made," she said. "It’s so easy to fall into and it’s so difficult to get out of."
It soon turned into mental, emotional and physical abuse.
"Him attempting to strangle me, and then 30 days later, we were going through divorce," she said.
Living in a shelter with her life being threatened, Resendiz felt fear filing her taxes, even after leaving.
"You go from that to now having to call somebody from a private line, saying, 'Let's talk about this tax return.' It's a very difficult and dangerous place to be in. It’s almost like you have to put yourself back into the lion’s den to file a tax return. You don't feel like you have any rights. You feel all alone," she said.
The IRS sent out a memo in October 2016 specifically for domestic violence victims, explaining that taxpayers have the right to:
File a separate return even if they're married
Review the entire tax return before signing a joint return
Refuse to sign a joint return
Request more time to file their tax return
Ask the IRS for copies of prior-year tax returns
Seek independent legal advice
"To be able to do it with freedom and the ability of not having to be terrorized," Resendiz said, is important.
The IRS also offers a separate form called a Request for Innocent Spouse Relief, which is Form 8857. If a survivor and a spouse file a joint return and the survivor is not aware that the abuser has not paid the taxes, the survivor can fill out the form to be relieved of liability. It's a right for all taxpayers, but it can be very helpful to someone under an abuser's financial control.
Resendiz is thankful that the government is acknowledging the issues that survivors face during tax season. Still, she has an important message for those still in the middle of abuse.
"Consider your safety, the safety of your children. Leave first, and know that this is available to protect yourself in these circumstances," she said.
She hopes that just knowing the tax filing options are available will give victims the confidence to leave their abusers.
"Why not use that money and file it separately, so that you can at least use that to move into an apartment or to get yourself in a situation where you can get out of that scenario?" she said.
The IRS has a full sheet of information for domestic abuse survivors who are filing tax returns.