I am a divorced person. My husband is also a divorced person. Maybe you are, too, and you know exactly what that’s like. Maybe you’re not, and you think we’re a little questionable because of it. Maybe you’re just curious about what went down. One thing I’ve learned is that being a pretty unapologetic divorced person often gets a reaction. I don’t think it’s anything shameful, or tragic, or mysterious. It’s just a societal custom that a pretty significant percentage of us take part in at some point, some more than once. It doesn’t have to be awful, although it certainly can be, but whether or not it’s awful, it’s always interesting.
One thing I have learned in my half decade or so as a divorced person is that divorce is kind of a taboo, even though it’s so common, and because of that, we divorced people tend to get blindsided by a lot of weird stuff. This keeps happening to me, even though I come from a family that has been divorcing one another with reckless abandon, much to the Catholic church’s chagrin, since long before it was cool. (Oddly, my own parents have been married 47 years, and happily from what I can tell. Yet, my sister and I are both divorced. It’s a family tradition, even if they choose not to partake.) Even these people do not talk about the day to day weirdness that comes with existing in the world as a divorced person, and I really wish they would.
Anyway, this morning, I was blindsided once again by some weird divorced person juju that the once-and-done married, happy singles, and never making it legals could not conjure up in their wildest imaginations. I am absolutely certain we are not the only people this has happened to, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of it, so I want other people to know about this because it can happen.
It all started a month ago when my husband and I got a letter in the mail from the IRS. Nothing you ever wanted to hear began like that, but we soon realized they just wanted to verify our identities. We were told it was probably due to a breach of Equifax data the year prior, and assumed it was a technicality. We were annoyed, but what choice did we have? We needed our tax return processed, and this was the way that was going to happen. I grabbed a snack, the documents they wanted, and messaged with some friends whose meme game is strong while I sat on hold for 58 minutes. When someone picked up, I cheerfully explained that I just wanted to verify my husband’s and my identities because we got a letter in the mail saying that we needed to do that.
It was all going great until she asked me for my name, social security number, and birth date. I told her these things, and her entire tone of voice changed to the one you’ve probably only heard from the campus police they caught you double fisting Pabst Blue Ribbon at Kappa Sigma while being not a day over 18. Anyway, she said in the campus cop voice, “Are you a third party or something?” I said, “No, I’m Anastasia. This is mine and my husband’s tax return. I’m listed as spouse.” Continuing in the campus cop tone of voice, she said, “You’re going to have to verify your identity in person, Ms. Bernoulli.” (nonverbally adding, “if that IS your real name”) and transferred me to another department.
They were much nicer, scheduled us for an appointment a month out, and told us the giant stack of documents to bring with us to it. We mulled it over for that entire month, wondering what the problem was. Were we compromised in the Equifax breach even though Equifax told us we weren’t? Was there another data breach at the VA and my information was leaked this time? Was it because we have different last names? Was it because my husband is an immigrant? Was it because this is our first year filing together? Nothing made sense, and we did a great job of driving ourselves crazy over it.
This morning, we walked into the IRS office with our giant stack of documents, well dressed and looking as official as we could ever be capable of. They called us back immediately, and started asking for ID’s and various other things. Lucky for us, the agent was much nicer than the people on the phone were. About five minutes into this, she asked me, “When did you change your name?” I was confused. She said, “You had a different name last year. When did you change it?” I showed her my tax return from last year, showing that I had the same name. I was still confused. Then it hit us like a wrecking ball what had happened.
My husband spoke up, “Is the birth date May 4, 1976, and is the name Mary? That’s my ex-wife. How did she even get on there? This is Anastasia. She’s my wife. We filed together this year for the first time. We got married last June.”
While the agent could not confirm what was on her screen, we knew that’s what it was because she had a major lightbulb moment right about then, and started working at sorting it all out so our return could move forward. It wasn’t easy, and required multiple system overrides, but as far as we are aware, this issue is now taken care of. We were in the IRS office for about 45 minutes from start to finish, which is better than I was expecting.
The takeaway lesson from all this was that since his ex-wife’s information had been in my husband’s Intuit account when he filed taxes in years past, it somehow repopulated in some of the pages when it was being transmitted to the IRS, but my information was on other pages, so there were massive inconsistencies. It was not like this when we assembled the return. We checked every page multiple times before submitting it, and only his and my information were in there. This was very unexpected. It never happened to me when I got divorced because I got my own Intuit account after separating from my ex-husband, and had never filed taxes with him from there. There were no wires to cross, whereas my husband used his same account, removing her information and adding mine. We had no reason to believe this would cause a problem, but it did.
While I don’t expect this is a broad sweeping problem, our case proves it can happen, and I want people to know about this. In fact, I want people to know about a lot of the weird and unexpected things that happen when you’re divorced, especially the things that can come up years later, the stuff nobody ever tells you about. This is one example, but there are many others. Maybe I’ll write a book on that one day. In the comments, if you’re also a divorced person, why not tell me something unexpected that happened to you.