Stimulus Checks Can Stimulate Disputes Among Divorced Parents

Many Arizona parents have begun receiving COVID-19 stimulus checks for their children. For parents who are no longer together, the parent on the non-receiving end may well feel entitled to a portion of the children’s stimulus check(s).

The vast majority of parenting plans in place in Arizona today spell out in detail how the parents will claim the children for tax purposes.  For the majority of parents who qualify for a stimulus check, the check for the child (or children) will be deposited to the account of the parent who claimed the child “last.”  In many of these cases, the opposite parent would be entitled to claim the child for tax purposes “next.” Because the current pandemic developed quite rapidly, it is very unlikely there are many parenting plans in existence that specifically address how COVID-19 stimulus checks will be shared.

Because we find ourselves in such unprecedented times, there is no statutory rule to address this specific scenario.  There are, however, a number of considerations all separated parents should be aware of.

One common sense point that should be noted – is that the stimulus checks for most families are $500.00 per child, up to a maximum of $1,000.00 for two children.  At these dollar amounts, involving lawyers in the dispute will not make logical or financial sense for either parent.

The Arizona Supreme Court Administrative Office of the Courts recently published a seven-page document entitled “Family Court Guidelines for Parenting Time of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”  Within this document’s seven pages, the phrase “work collaboratively” appears three times.  The word “agree” or “agreement” appears seven times. Though the Guidelines do not specifically address stimulus checks, the overall message the Arizona Supreme Court appears desirous to convey to parents is that, from the Court’s perspective, this should be a time to focus on accommodation and understanding.  Parents who take the opposite approach during this time risk ending up before a Judge who is less than impressed with the decisions that parent made during the pandemic.

With that background in mind, a good guess at the conclusion many courts would reach if division of a  stimulus check resulted in litigation, is that the proper outcome would be to split the check(s) proportionately based to the amount of parenting time each parent is assigned. There is no guarantee a Court would adopt this approach, as every situation is unique and the current public-health crisis is still quite fluid.

Currently there is no perfect answer to the question of whether both parents are entitled a portion of the COVID-19 stimulus money for their common children. What is clear is that the best option for most, if not all parents, will be to work together to resolve the issue on their own, with each being mindful that their actions may later be scrutinized by a family court Judge.

Disagreements over division of COVID-19 stimulus checks is just one of the many complicated issues that will confront individuals and families in the coming months. If you are currently involved in a divorce, legal separation, annulment, or other family law case, and if you have determined that you need experienced legal representation, please call (480) 733-6800 and ask to speak with Michael D. Girgenti, or our website at: