Relationships: When One is a WTR

The topic of “mixed relationships” — a war tax resister and a non-resisting partner — comes up often at WTR meetings and in conversations about war tax resistance. Some people say they want to refuse to pay but their partner is against it. Others are resisting but finding it a strain on their relationship. And many resisters have managed to work things out with their spouse or partner and have stayed together for years, through thick and thin. The stories here represent a range of experiences and may or may not be representative of the WTR network as a whole. Maybe they will inspire you to send in your story or your ideas on making mixed relationships work. We hope to be able to collect the wit and wisdom from these situations to better respond in counseling and to prepare resisters for unexpected situations. As in most things to do with relationships, we know off the top that communication is important, that there are some practical steps, but there’s no magic either. We’d love to hear more on this topic.

In 2003 I quit my good-paying job in the software field so as to get below the income tax line and begin WTR. Soon after, my sweetie and I got together and a few years later moved in together. She’s not a tax resister and has a good-paying job in the software field, kind of like the one I left behind, with a taxed salary.

We split all household expenses 50/50, but I still sometimes feel like I have to be on-guard to make sure that I’m not subsidizing my tax-free lifestyle with her taxed salary — that would feel like cheating. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be fair for my necessarily frugal choices to dictate what sort of life she lives. We each compromise a little, though on the whole we tend toward voluntary simplicity and a low-expense lifestyle — the advantages of which she appreciates for reasons other than the tax resistance angle (for example, she’s able to put loads of her paycheck away for retirement, which makes that wonderful day seem very close).

We have a joint pool from which we pay for common expenses like rent and groceries, and we each pay equally into it. We had a joint checking account at one point that the IRS tapped with a levy, because it was at the same bank as an interest-earning account of mine (a rookie mistake on my part). Now I know to keep myself more aloof from any common funds that might be vulnerable to seizure.

Although my WTR sometimes makes our finances more complicated than they would be otherwise, it hasn’t been a source of relationship tension. At best, WTR is part of the package that makes her boyfriend lovable; at worst, WTR is her boyfriend’s crazy hobby (every boyfriend has got to have one). I don’t find it hard to agree to disagree about whether tax paying is a good idea since, after all, that’s the situation most of us have with most of our friends and family.

— David M. Gross, Northern California War Tax Resistance, Administrative Committee of NWTRCC, and author of the blog “The Picket Line: How I live up to my values by resisting federal taxes,”

I was a practicing war tax resister for nine years. During that time, 1997 to 2006, I filed no federal tax returns and claimed nine allowances on my W-4 form. I worked low-paying social service jobs but did not live below a taxable level of income. And I made practically no lifestyle adjustments to protect my wages from garnishment or my property from seizure by the IRS. I was hoping to “get lost in the shuffle” and, for a while, I did just that.

About the same time that I became a war tax resister, I entered into a serious relationship that led to marriage in the year 2000. My wife is an activist in her own fashion, and she very much respects my efforts to work for peace and social justice. At the same time, she has consistently expressed concerns about my risk-taking in terms of being arrested for public protest or practicing war tax resistance. Such risk-taking is, for her, both emotionally and practically threatening and could lead to consequences that she is not prepared to accept-such as losing a job or giving up on her dream of buying a house.

From the start, we decided to keep our finances as separate as possible since we both had obligations to teenage children from previous marriages. We split the payment of monthly expenses and maintained no joint accounts. Since Oregon is not a community property state, we hoped to protect my wife’s income from garnishment for the payment of my tax debt by assuming the “married, filling separately” filing status. My wife thought this was a good idea until she realized that “married filing separately” status rendered us ineligible for most state and federal tax deductions afforded to married couples. In other words, my war tax resistance was only compounding her financial difficulties.

In March 2004, I received a computer generated letter requesting a tax return and payment, including substantial interest and penalties, for the year 2002 only. I ignored this letter and heard nothing further from the IRS until November 2006. That November, I received letters requesting payment for the years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. I responded with a letter of my own explaining my war tax resistance. Certified letters and warnings about making “frivolous” arguments followed.

At this point, I decided to suspend my war tax resistance for primarily two reasons. First, I believed that I could not afford to have my wages garnisheed and continue to meet financial obligations to my family. Also, I felt that my marriage deserved a break from the pressure that the decision to resist had placed upon it. For my wife, war tax resistance had become an imposed, rather than a shared, sacrifice. I continue to work with the local WTR group and to oppose militarism at every opportunity.

— John Grueschow, Coordinator of the Military & Draft Counseling Project, WRL Portland, Member of the Oregon Community for War Tax Resistance

My story about a mixed relationship is a cautionary tale, especially for parents. I always felt fairly comfortable in my marriage with the fact that I resisted paying all federal income taxes, which I started doing six years before I met my ex-wife. My ease with the arrangement was in part because she is a Quaker, has progressive politics, and has opposed every U.S. military engagement since I have known her. But as time went by she became more anxious about financial security, and more anxious generally about our whole life together, in particular issues around parenting. We tried for many sessions to resolve our differences, including those around my war tax resistance, in couples counseling and then in mediation. But the effort was overwhelmed by our differences over our children, which became more and more pronounced as they moved through the school years. Over time significant differences developed over education, and my opposition to drugging one of our sons to force him to comply with the demands of school. I helped found an alternative school where I still serve on the board, which is a democratic free school, a type of school known to have success with children labeled ADHD by giving them more freedom and a real say in how they spend their day.

Just one year ago, when as far as I knew we were still in mediation, my wife filed a court case, the main thrust of which was an attempt to remove my custodial rights, especially in the ability to participate in decision-making. To my great regret, and my children’s, this tactic succeeded. The judge was an extremely irritable hack who had very traditional values, and right away it became clear that he did not like me. He very precipitously gave sole custody to my wife because of my views on medicating children, schooling, and war tax resistance. My wife’s lawyer, to my shock, loudly trumpeted my nonpayment of federal income tax at every opportunity, in an apparent attempt to gain the judge’s sympathy and also to gain financial advantage.

Our marriage was in many ways one in which the roles were reversed, with my wife acting as the main breadwinner, while I am a self-employed craftsman, with the flexibility to be very available for our children, particularly when they were young. I thought we had an implicit understanding which enabled among other things my war tax resistance. Unfortunately the forces which spurred my wife forward to force her will on me and my children ended up being much stronger than this implied consent and stronger than her own Quaker sympathies.

When the judge found out I was a non-filer, he forced me to file four years of returns. I did not even get a chance to explain in court that I am not a tax evader, but do not pay for reasons of conscience. I did explain my war tax refusal in my written response, but the judge may not have even read the papers. In any case he treated me like a tax evader. One result is that I lost several thousand dollars from a bank account due to a levy. But I did not voluntarily pay and am as determined as ever to resist contributing to any form of militarism. I hope one day my sons will see that as a legacy I leave for them, as important in its way as the financial security and comfort that are the predominant values in our culture. Through all the turmoil I have been fortunate to maintain very close and supportive relationships with my two sons.

I wonder if there are others with similar experiences. I think my own experience is reason for any war tax resister who is a parent to try to think ahead and guard against the possibility that following your conscience could make you vulnerable in ways you never expected. There are the judges who sit in tax court, for whom it is possible to prepare and strategize, and then there are their brothers and sisters (though I did not see any female judges in Brooklyn Superior Court) who preside over marital cases, loose cannons who wield immense power over the lives of vulnerable children, and who may have a strong reaction to an act of civil disobedience such as nonpayment of war taxes. It really is a case of no good deed goes unpunished, of an act of love being beaten into a sword.

— Walter Goodman, active in NYC War Resisters League

My partner started resisting after watching me do it for years, but gave it up after an Earned Income Credit canceled his total liability (clearly he/we weren’t making much money). We were about to buy a house, so having a nonresister was convenient, and he decided to stop. His heart wasn’t really in it, though it made sense to him not to pay for war. Not too long ago an aggressive IRS agent seized an account that had only my partner’s name on it, but that I had deposited some checks in. They found the account by getting copies of the back of checks written to me and seeing what bank handled the checks. Lawyers indicated it would be hard to fight the seizure because I had used the account, even though the money left in it was not mine. Now we have completely separate finances, with joint expenses split equally, and we generally let each other do what we want. Neither of us spends a lot of time worrying about money (having been brought up in financially secure and/or confident families). In the end the IRS got less than one-third of the total they were seeking, despite putting an aggressive agent on the case.

— Anonymous