First, please forgive what is likely to be a bit of a disjointed story.
Second, I fully expect that I won’t like the answers, but I am hoping someone here has some expertise and a creative suggestion.
Here’s the nutshell version of the situation:
A couple of years ago, my SIL (30 now) and her daughter (my niece) came to live with us as a result of an ugly breakup (marriage). We provide room and board, help out with expenses like clothing (although there are lots of family hand me downs), I either fix her car or cover the repair bills, provide assistance with things like gas as needed, etc. The separated husband provides a pittance to my SIL, probably around $100/week. My SIL has no career or education, and has enrolled in a degree program and has about two more years to go, and so I anticipate having them at least that long.
Estranged husband owns his own small business, and claims to make very little money. My SIL does not know anything of the finances, refuses to investigate, and generally believes him. I, however, suspect there is a lot of off-the-books earnings there. They continue to file joint tax returns, which is his preference. Frankly, I don’t think my SIL knows what a tax return is. He has her convinced that if she seeks a formal divorce she will get next to nothing in a settlement (did I mention he fathered two children with other women while they were married; this was the last straw that led to the separation). His claim is that with three child support payments and such a low income, she will get less than she gets now under court guidelines. I don’t know if it is relevant, but I know that he does not have formal child support arrangements with the other two mothers.
My SIL and I have had a number of big arguments about this, as I think she is believing his lies, letting him off the hook as far as child support, and as a result depriving herself of various state programs to help mothers in her situation (ranging from WIC to scholarships). Frankly, she isn’t what you’d call a thinker, and is very much afraid that things will be worse if she heads down that path, which is exactly how he wants it.
SO, rambling on I know, I have covered a pretty significant load of expenses through this period, and while I am happy to help, I have always been a bit bitter that I have two dependents but can not claim either of them. I am essentially covering 90% of the cost of having two children; as though I have a 15 year old daughter who got knocked up. That’s about the maturity level I am working with here. I should probably note that I am married, but we have no children of our own.
Now my niece will need to enter preschool next year, and it looks like that will be my cost to bear. That’s going to get expensive, and frankly I feel like from a moral perspective I ought to be entitled to the same deductions that a parent would.
Is there any legal way I can claim a deduction for this? Have I any recourse? What if I simply claimed the deduction, knowing that I can prove the degree of support I provide? My SIL won’t budge, and I feel a moral obligation to my niece to provide for her, at least until my SIL finishes school. The truth is, I can afford it, and so I will do what I must for her sake. I don’t begrudge my niece anything I can provide- she’s the innocent. But it really steams me that he gets the tax benefit while not providing either the financial support nor the paternal influence- as you can imagine, I am more the dad here than he it.
I guess this is 1/2 rant and 1/2 question.