New Bill Aims to Enhance Protections for Victims of Coerced Debt


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HARTFORD — A proposed bill aims to provide victims of coerced debt with legal recourse against their abusers, while also facilitating collaboration between victims and financial institutions to find resolutions.

“Coerced debt means that somebody is being forced, usually by a domestic partner or husband or wife, to take on debt they don’t want to,” said State Rep. Tom Delnicki, R-South Windsor, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s a situation where the abuser forces the person into taking on that debt and that debt can actually ruin a person’s credit history. Whether it is physically or psychologically, they are forced into it. They find that when they try to put their lives together, this debt is tagging them for the rest of their lives.”

If passed, Delnicki said the legislation would clarify the law, enabling victims to pursue civil action against their abusers. Additionally, the bill calls for a 30-day “faith review,” during which credit card companies and banks must halt all collection efforts and work with victims. The review would permit victims to gather information, and file police and identity theft reports with the Federal Trade Commission. 

In submitted testimony to the Banking Committee regarding her experience, Simsbury resident Karen Robbins said her former husband took out $240,000 in loans and opened bank accounts without her knowledge.

Robbins, an elder care attorney, later told CT Examiner that there’s a misconception about who can fall prey to such activity. Falling victim to coerced debt can happen to anyone, she said.

“For 18 years, he was opening credit cards in my name without my knowledge,” she said. “I think, initially, he kept all the balls in the air and kept lying about it to keep me in the dark and to take control of the finances.”

Then in 2020, Robbins said she started to get suspicious.

“I got a foreclosure notice and he said it was a mistake. Combine that with USAA calling me to confirm information about my credit card. I texted him at work and he said it must be a mistake,” she said. At the urging of her son, Robbins said she pulled her credit report and soon everything became clear. “It pulled up pages and pages and pages of credit cards with me as the primary owner or joint owner. Cards I had never seen before. My credit score was God awful, I believe it was in the low 400s.”

After her ex-husband moved to Florida, Robbins said she’s been trying to piece her life back together. 

“It’s affected my life,” she said. “To this day, I can’t get a credit card. I have secured credit cards, which means I put, for example, $2,000 in and they give me a $2,000 limit. I can’t rent an apartment in my name, I can’t get a mortgage, I can’t get a loan for my kids for college. This is four years later.”

After years of discussions with numerous banks, she said most have agreed to help resolve what her former husband allegedly did, but that “one bank has not released me.”

Barbara Damon, president and CEO of the New Britain-based Prudence Crandall Center, which provides services to domestic violence victims in central Connecticut, testified that debt and poor credit scores can have long-term consequences for survivors. 

“Employers, landlords and utility companies make extensive use of credit histories during screening. For victims who do leave [their abusers], impacts of coerced debt may result in longer shelter stays [at Prudence Crandall], compounding capacity issues within Connecticut’s domestic violence system which runs at 150 percent capacity,” Damon wrote.

According to a study by The Center for Survivor Agency & Justice, 52% of women in abusive relationships also experience coerced debt. While men can also be the victim of coerced debt, experts say many more women fall victim.

Delnicki said he envisions bipartisan support for the measure, which failed to pass the state House in 2023, in part, due to bill language that did not align with the Judicial Branch’s practice book.

“This is something that is deeply important to me, as I know people very close to me who have been impacted by this [coerced debt] type of domestic violence,” State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, vice chair of the Banking Committee, told CT Examiner. “We are really defining what coerced debt is — that it is a form of coercive control — and we are outlining the sort of procedures that need to take place in these cases. Now [if the bill passes], there is a pathway for victims.”

The bill passed out of the Banking Committee and must now be passed by both the House and Senate before reaching the governor’s desk. Currently, Texas, Maine and California have similar laws in place.

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950