About Abuse

Financial Abuse

Updated: 
June 19, 2017

Can I sue the abuser for money I think s/he owes me?

If an abusive partner (to whom you are not married) failed to re-pay money that you lent to him/her or failed to make credit card or loan payments that s/he agreed to, you may be able to take the abuser to small claims court to sue for that money. You do not need a lawyer to go to small claims court, however, you can only ask for up to a certain amount of money. Each state sets a different limit for the amount for which you can ask. For information about going to small claims court, visit the Suing an Abuser section of WomensLaw.org and choose your state from the drop-down menu.

If you are/were married to someone who you believe owes you money, this can be a more complex issue to handle. Generally, money earned during a marriage by either spouse is considered joint, marital property and so in the majority of circumstances, one spouse can’t really “owe” the other spouse money that s/he took or used during the marriage. There could be an exception, however, for private, separate property obtained prior to the marriage that is “lent” to a spouse during a marriage or for an inheritance that was left to one spouse during the marriage and wrongfully taken by the other spouse. Even in either of these circumstances, you may want to talk with a lawyer about your state’s marital property laws to make sure that the money/property that was used by your spouse can be traced to an individual source (like money lent to your spouse before marriage or money borrowed from a family member that was then lent to the other spouse).

For debts that one spouse accrued during the marriage, either in his/her own name or in the other spouse’s name, generally these matters are handled as part of the divorce. In a divorce, the parties will need to list any and all marital debt and the parties or the judge will decide how to divide this debt as part of the divorce. Generally, if debt is not declared/dealt with in the divorce, both sides may be prohibited from later suing for that money (unless the divorce decree specifically allows for this to be done in a separate proceeding).

Before suing the abuser, please consider your safety. It might help to talk to a domestic violence advocate or organization near you for this reason. You can find on the Advocates and Shelters page.