By Elizabeth A. RichterIntroduction:
Recently, I was going through my old documents in my divorce case. As I was doing so, I stumbled across a conversation I'd had with one of my attorneys, Attorney Gerald Kahn regarding the innocent spouse provision established by the IRS. I was very concerned that I might get into trouble with the IRS regarding old tax returns. At the time, I was so struck by Attorney Kahn's negative response to me that after the conversation, I sat down and wrote out my memory of what had been said. Below is my recollection of our conversation.
As you can see, in this conversation Attorney Gerald Kahn tries to restrict the definition of domestic violence to physical violence, even though the IRS doesn't even limit the definition in that way. Now that I am several years past that conversation, I am still struck by how Attorney Gerald Kahn responded in this conversation to the issue of DV. Read the conversation below and I would love to hear your comments regarding our interaction:
Elizabeth: I have this notebook with IRS forms that describe the meaning of "Innocent Spouse" and I am thinking of filing for innocent spouse status with the IRS. You can look at it so you can see the kind of letter they require. Here you see that they want to know if you are a victim of DV.
Attorney Gerald Kahn: You aren't a victim of DV are you?
Elizabeth: I go to a regular weekly meeting at Interval House. They think I am.
Attorney Gerald Kahn: Well, your ex never beat you up, so...
Elizabeth: At Interval House, if you ask them, they would say they make no differentiation between verbal or physical abuse.
Attorney Gerald Kahn: I can't say you are a victim of DV based upon your report or based upon your understanding, I've certainly never met your ex. I can only verify what you've told me.
Elizabeth: I think there are many objective ways of verifying what I've said about my ex.
Attorney Gerald Kahn: Like how?
Elizabeth: I've tape recorded my ex saying "You're crazy, you're crazy. Everyone knows you are crazy" and stuff like that.
Attorney Gerald Kahn: I can't tell you how many times stuff like that gets said in the middle of a marital spat.
Elizabeth: I think it is just particularly more hurtful in my case with my past history of the 30 year old misdiagnosis. My ex is aware of that.
Attorney Gerald Kahn. Well, I'd like to hear the tape recording if you have it.
Elizabeth: Sure, I have it. I can get it for you.
Attorney Gerald Kahn: And that letter from your father that I keep on asking for.
Elizabeth: If you want confirmation of what my father knows, you just have to consider that my ex was sending letters to my parents 3 or 4 years ago calling me crazy. Just the fact that my Dad didn't tell me about those letters. That's enough to show you what my ex is like. It's too bad with my father. If he'd told me about those letters I'd have been forwarned.
And just the fact that when you get down to it, my ex was telling everyone I was crazy. Like when the police were called to my house, my ex met them at the door and said, "My wife is having a nervous breakdown and I'm calling her therapist right now." The police met me and said they didn't think I was having a nervous breakdown.
But just his telling everyone I was crazy created an atmosphere around me.
Then what about all those forged signatures. Those are objective enough. That kind of thing, signing my name on IRS documents, forging my signature to open and close accounts. All of this denied me the right to make my own independent decisions.
Anyway, you should look at the IRS documents. See what it says about when you can be relieved of responsibility for a spouse's actions. I think when you read it, the requirements will be more clear.
Questions for you:
1. Do you think that Attorney Gerald Kahn's limited definition of domestic violence was reasonable?
2. How would you characterize Attorney Kahn's handling of this situation in the light of Elizabeth's experience of DV?
3. Why do you think Elizabeth did not state "I am a victim of domestic violence" and instead said, "They (i.e. staff at the DV shelter at Interval House) think I am."?
4. What do you think of Elizabeth's ex writing letters to her family reporting that she is crazy? What role does that play in DV?
5. Why do you think Elizabeth's Dad did not let her know that he was receiving those letters? What was involved there?
6. How do you think Attorney Gerald Kahn's reaction to Elizabeth's report of how DV affected her?