CT bill would help victims of domestic violence with ‘forced debt’

“D,” a domestic abuse survivor, first approached the Greenwich YWCA when she was considering leaving her husband. Aside from the verbal abuse and physical threats that D suffered, her husband also assumed more than $200,000 in debt on D’s behalf and never made any payments, YWCA officials testified before lawmakers this week.

“When it came time for her to move into independent housing, D’s poor credit rating resulted in her being rejected by many, many potential landlords,” wrote Mary Lee A. Kiernan and Meredith Gold of the YWCA in Greenwich in their testimony.

Connecticut lawmakers are considering legislation that would grant victims like D recourse for so-called “forced debts” — that is, debts incurred on a victim’s behalf by an abusive domestic partner, often fraudulently or under threat.

Advocates say nearly all domestic violence survivors experience such financial abuse that can leave them in a precarious economic position long after they leave abusive relationships.

D eventually filed for bankruptcy, which helped with her outstanding debt, Kiernan and Gold wrote, but “D’s financial security will be compromised for years to come.”

Senate Bill 1086, modeled on similar statutes in California and Maine, establishes the documentation survivors need to show that debts were incurred “as a result of coercion, intimidation, threats of violence, violence, fraud or improper influence,” and urges creditors to stop collecting this debt from the victim and instruct rating agencies to re-rate the debt and remove it from the victim’s credit report.

The General Assembly Banking Committee heard public testimony on SB 1086 along with more than a dozen other proposals in an hour-long hearing Thursday.

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Representatives from the Connecticut Creditor Bar Association and the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, also known as the ACA, testified and called for further refinement of the bill’s language, particularly with regard to holding offenders accountable.

“We believe it is important to make it crystal clear that the abuser is responsible for his actions and must not retain any economic benefit from his abuse,” wrote CCBA President William Marohn.

ACA’s Andrew Madden called the legislation’s goal “noble” and called on lawmakers to add accountability measures for debtors who may be making false claims.

Karen Robbins told the Banking Committee on Thursday afternoon that she is a domestic violence survivor and has been working for three years to “end my marriage and regain financial independence.” She said her ex-husband used her identity to open credit card accounts and get a mortgage. He also stole from her children’s savings accounts, she told the committee.

Robbins said she has spent countless hours on the phone with lawyers and banks, and that her credit history has made it difficult for her to get auto insurance and life insurance. Robbins said she had to ask a friend to put her name on a lease for the apartment where she and her children live.

“Forced debt can erase a survivor’s ability to get on with their lives, provide for their children, and begin the difficult work of restoring emotional and financial independence,” Robbins said. She said SB 1086 “will greatly improve the chances of victims like me taking back control of their future.”

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