“Maria’s” first contact with “Joe” was an unsolicited message he sent her on Facebook. She ignored it for two months but she was intrigued by his descriptions of raising his children all on his own, and began communicating with him.

Eventually, he visited her in her native country in Central America, persuaded her to marry him, and brought her – with her two daughters – back to live with him in New Hampshire.

Looking back, Maria sees red flags early in their relationship, particularly Joe’s attempts to isolate and control her. Once in New Hampshire, however, the abuse became unmistakable, escalating from debilitating emotional and economic abuse to physical violence.

After five years, she successfully freed herself and her daughters. She credits the police, her daughters, and her crisis center advocates, as well as the medical staff who told her about the resources available to domestic violence victims.

But the abuse left physical scars and more, including a daunting federal tax liability that Maria had no ability to pay.

Each year of their marriage, Joe prepared a joint return showing a balance due and told her to sign it. Maria spoke little English, and did not know of her right to file separately and keep his tax problems off of her record. Thus, year after year, the debt mounted, accumulating interest and penalties all the while.

Ending the marriage did not automatically end Maria’s portion of the tax debt. Fortunately, Maria’s crisis center advocate knew about 603 Legal Aid’s Low-Income Taxpayer Project. With the help of her crisis center advocate and 603 Legal Aid, Maria gathered the documentation of her abuse and submitted an application for “innocent spouse relief.”

One year, two months, and 18 days later, the IRS determined that Maria was entitled to full relief from the joint federal tax liability. Still hesitant in English, Maria rarely emailed 603 Legal Aid directly, usually communicating through her crisis center advocate who served as translator during the process. But when 603 Legal Aid shared the IRS decision, Maria replied quickly: “This is great news! Thank you so much!”