The North Randolph Street quadruple homicide that shocked Indianapolis followed a domestic dispute over a stimulus check, court records have revealed.
Details are still emerging about the history shared between Malik Halfacre, the suspect, and the mother of his child, who survived the shooting. But their fallout begs the question: What options are available to divorced or divorced couples who disagree over who gets federal benefits?
IndyStar spoke with family law attorneys to learn about redress options.
Recently divorced couples are more at risk
Since incentive checks are deposited into the bank account associated with a person’s federal tax returns, couples who are divorced but filed taxes jointly as married couples can run into trouble about how to split the single deposit, said John Floreancig, general counsel at Indianapolis Legal Aid Company.
“Because if you file your own taxes, you get your own stimulus check,” Floreancig said.
If a couple going through a divorce can’t agree on who gets what amount from the incentive payments, they can ask a judge to decide the issue as part of the divorce proceeding.
“So as long as the (divorce) decree isn’t issued, they can definitely agree on how to split or who gets it. Or it could be a judicial issue at a final divorce hearing,” Floreancig said.
Custody battles can make it difficult who gets control
Court records show that the suspect and the surviving victim of the North Randolph Street shooting were never married. The mother did request a judge in October 2020 to have Halfacre pay child support as part of her restraining order, but the judge did not grant that request at the time.
Because families get extra incentive money if the couple has survivors, disputes can arise between unmarried parents with a shared child. Things can get complicated when the couple splits custody from one year to the next, says family law attorney Melissa Avery, who works at the Broyles Kight & Ricafort firm.
“It’s very common for a custody agreement or court order to say that Mom has custody of Little Johnny and Dad pays child support. Johnny as a dependent in odd years,” Avery said.
“So if that was the order, even though he’s not Johnny’s custodian, Dad would have claimed him in 2019. And he’ll have the incentive money deposited into his account.”
More:Here’s what you need to know about $300 unemployment incentive payments in Indiana
As with divorce, couples with custody issues currently pending in court should ensure that this issue is brought to court, Avery said.
“There are a lot of people who have lawsuits in court anyway, because they’re going through a child support change because of a change in income or a job loss,” Avery said.
“So if you’re already going through legal proceedings, this would definitely be an issue you’d want to address and get a judge to sort it out for you.”
Increasing the tax credit for children can cause disputes
Another element of the Biden administration’s most recent stimulus package that could amplify child custody disputes is the child tax credit, which was increased to a fully refundable $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17 and $3,600 for children under 6 for many by 2021. families.
That increase means that “people are likely to fight harder for the right to claim the child as a dependent in their custody and child support,” Avery said.
The IRS can also enforce who gets to claim the credit if they decide to audit a taxpayer, Avery said. The federal tax authorities would look at who has the child most of the time.
“I think that would only come up for discussion if both parents claim the child as a dependent, and that has prompted the IRS to get back to them and ask for evidence,” Avery added.
Call IndyStar court reporter Johnny Magdaleno at 317-273-3188 or email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @IndyStarJohnny