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.
How can I pay for the medical bills, court fees or property damage the abuser has caused me?
You may have a couple of options for getting reimbursed. First, you may be able to sue the abuser in small claims court if you can prove a direct link between the expenses and the abuser’s actions.
Second, if you have been the victim of a crime, including domestic violence, it may be possible to seek reimbursement from the Crime Victim Compensation Board in your state, which may help pay for certain expenses of crime victims. Each state has different rules for who is eligible to receive this money and how much money one can receive. Go the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards for more information and to read about the program in your state.
Third, if you are getting a protection order based on the violent incident that caused you these expenses, you might be able to ask the judge to order that the abuser reimburse you for your medical bills, property damage, and/or attorney’s fees. Go to the Restraining Orders page in your state to see if this is an option.
Additional resources and where else to turn
- Moving Ahead Through Financial Management Curriculum - This curriculum was created by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the Allstate Foundation and includes the following sections (called “modules”): Understanding Financial Abuse; Learning Financial Fundamentals; Mastering Credit Basics; Building Financial Foundations; Creating Budgeting Strategies; and Resources.
- NYC Bankruptcy Assistance Project's Answers to Common Bankruptcy Questions
- Identify Theft Hotline to speak one-on-one with a counselor 1-877-ID-THEFT
- New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence
- Allstate's Click to Empower Campaign: Information on financial literacy and tools for helping women leave abusive relationships and build financially stable futures.
- The Women’s Institute for Financial Education (WIFE): Providing financial information to women in their quest for financial independence.
- Fight Identity Theft: Comprehensive information about fraud, identity theft and ways to keep your financial information safe.