How Bankruptcy Affects Domestic Violence Defendants

Domestic violence crimes are violent or abusive offenses that are committed against family members or people who are in an intimate or dating relationship with the person who is accused of the crime. Domestic violence crimes range from beatings and sexual assaults to crimes involving threats or other forms of emotional violence.

In many cases, victims of domestic violence are also victims of financial abuse. A spouse might run up debt in the other spouse’s name. An intimate partner might be coerced into taking out loans that he or she cannot afford to repay. Bankruptcy can be a resource that helps domestic abuse victims obtain relief from debts they did not want to incur.

Individuals who are accused of domestic violence might also benefit from bankruptcy. Accusations are often made during stressful times in a relationship. A financial crisis brought on by the loss of a job, unmanageable debt, or the threat of foreclosure can cause tempers to flare.

Dealing with debt before a domestic crisis erupts is the best way to avoid angry confrontations. For many people, a liquidation bankruptcy under chapter 7 or a debt repayment plan under chapter 13 is the right strategy to bring debt —and the risk of domestic violence — under control.

After criminal charges are filed, an individual who is accused or convicted of domestic violence may still benefit from bankruptcy. Here are answers to questions that people who are accused of domestic violence frequently ask about bankruptcy.

I have a pending bankruptcy. Will my arrest for domestic violence affect my bankruptcy proceedings?

You are innocent until proven guilty. In many cases, your criminal defense attorney can help you avoid a domestic violence conviction. Even if you are convicted of the charge, your conviction should not affect a pending bankruptcy. If you filed a joint bankruptcy with the person who is accusing you of domestic violence, however, you will need to work with your criminal and bankruptcy lawyers to make sure you do not violate any court orders by having contact with your spouse at a bankruptcy hearing.

The conviction may create new debt, including fines and restitution. Your bankruptcy lawyer will need to know about the criminal charges, including any new debt that might be created. While you will not be able to discharge fines or restitution in a bankruptcy proceeding, your bankruptcy attorney might suggest other strategies for dealing with those debts.

I have been charged with a crime of domestic violence. Will that affect my ability to file bankruptcy?

You can file bankruptcy while a criminal charge is pending, but you might want to wait until you know the outcome of your criminal case before you file. If you are sentenced to confinement and will lose your source of income, that result might dictate the kind of bankruptcy you will file.

If you were accused of domestic violence by your spouse and you plan to reconcile, the court might see a bankruptcy as evidence that you are taking steps to resolve the problems that placed stress on your marriage. In that situation, a bankruptcy might be helpful to your criminal case. In other circumstances, the court might see a bankruptcy in a less positive light. Be sure to talk to a domestic violence law firm as well as a bankruptcy law firm before you make any decisions about whether and when to file bankruptcy.

Can I use bankruptcy to avoid financial penalties imposed for a domestic violence crime?

Fines imposed by a criminal court cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. You can talk to your bankruptcy lawyer about the possibility of using a credit card to pay fines and then using a bankruptcy to discharge the credit card debt.

Can I use bankruptcy to avoid paying restitution for a domestic violence crime?

You can ask your bankruptcy attorney about paying restitution over a period of time by using a chapter 13 plan. You will still owe any unpaid balance when the plan ends, but you may be able to file another plan at that point. As long as the chapter 13 is in effect, no other efforts can be made to collect the restitution. That protects you from wage garnishments and nasty calls from debt collectors.

If the person accusing you of domestic violence is your wife and if the two of you plan to continue in your marriage, you might be able to file a joint bankruptcy before you are sentenced to prevent a restitution order from being entered. By including medical expenses in a joint bankruptcy, you may be able to eliminate the debt before the court has a chance to order its payment as restitution.


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