One of the perks of allowing each of the 50 states creates their own set of laws is that it lets states experiment with ideas for all the others to see.
Right now, the state of Maine is considering a law that would allow victims of domestic violence to recover compensation from their abusers for their “economic abuse.” While the idea sounds good, there are numerous potential flaws that could doom its success.
The Concept of Economic Abuse
Many truly abusive relationships revolve around the issue of control. One of the most common and subtly devastating ways for an abuser to control someone is to make all of the financial decisions in the marriage or relationship. By completely controlling the other person's assets, property, and even their income, an abuser can keep that person with no means of their own and even saddle them with financial debts to keep them in the relationship.
This concept of economic abuse is only just becoming recognized as an integral part of abusive relationships.
Maine Considering Economic Abuse Law
Now, the state of Maine is the first in the U.S. to consider passing a law that gives alleged victims of economic abuse an avenue of legal recourse.
The proposed law is HP 533. It defines economic abuse as making someone else in a relationship “financially dependent by maintaining control over the individual's financial resources.”
In order to protect victims of economic abuse, HP 533 would allow them to recover financial compensation for “losses resulting from economic abuse” from their alleged abuser and would keep debt collectors from taking action against them, if they can show that their debts were the result of economic abuse.
The Problem of Awarding Compensation
While the proposed law would aim to correct significant problems, there is a serious risk that it goes too far. Relatively few abusive relationships rise to the level of those that are heard about on the news or in TV shows, where one person in the relationship is literally locked inside. Most allegedly abusive relationships are far more complicated. Some of them are even fictional, where the alleged victim imagines being victimized by abuse that is not actually happening.
As the law stands, there are already a lot of problems figuring out exactly what is going on in abusive relationships – most cases involving allegedly abusive relationships rely exclusively on testimony by the purported victim and the alleged abuser. As protection from abuse (PFA) hearings have shown, drawing a line in the sand between the alleged abuser's due process rights and the apparent need to protect the alleged victim has been one of the most difficult things for the law to do, so far.
Allowing claimed victims of economic abuse to collect compensation would be injecting an already uncertain process with the sometimes very real possibility that an alleged victim is only acting out of a financial motive. While Maine is more than welcome to experiment with the idea of compensating victims of economic abuse, it seems more likely that this proposed bill would backfire.
Domestic Violence and PFA Lawyer in Philadelphia Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a domestic violence defense lawyer who represents people through the PFA process. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.