AUGUSTA — When Christie Davis’ 21-year marriage finally ended after years of domestic abuse, she was financially ruined largely because her ex-husband, she said, had taken control of all of her assets over the years, including refinancing the couple’s home into his name alone.

“He transferred balances, maxed my cards out and I didn’t tell him no, he would tell me it was the best thing financially and if I put up too much of a fight it would turn into a huge argument,” Davis said in an interview. Over time, she just avoided the subject of finances, even when she was bringing in more money than him, to avoid his rage, she said.

Davis said her husband violated protection from abuse orders after she left him. Not only did she live in constant fear, she said, but she also was haunted by a broken credit score and took low-profile, low-paying jobs outside her career field so her ex couldn’t find her.

Survivors of domestic violence in Maine are often subjected to economic abuse that leaves them struggling for decades to recover financially, their advocates say.

On Tuesday, Davis told her story to the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee during a hearing on a groundbreaking bill sponsored by Rep. Jessica Fay, D-Raymond, that is aimed at freeing survivors from bad debts racked up by their abusers. Fay says her bill prohibits credit rating agencies from counting that debt against them. The legislation would allow a court, when issuing a protection from abuse order, to also issue an order for monetary relief, prohibiting debt collectors from calling or taking action, while also defining the term economic abuse in Maine law.

Christie Davis urged the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee to support a bill that would help protect survivors of domestic abuse from economic harm. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“Imagine if you get a paycheck direct-deposited into an account you don’t have access to,” Fay said in an interview. “Imagine that if you decided to leave but your credit has been ruined so you can’t get an apartment so you have no place to live. It’s another way to gain control over somebody. It really impacts your ability to be independent.”

Fay said she introduced the measure on behalf of constituents she met while campaigning more than three years ago. If passed, the bill could put Maine at the forefront on the issue of economic abuse. While several states have defined economic abuse as a component of domestic violence, none has yet passed a bill as comprehensive as her proposal.

“The debt that is incurred by somebody else in your name is not your debt,” Fay said. Under the bill, “if you got a protection from abuse order, that would be a clearer path, so you don’t have to go through a more rigorous and sometimes I would think a re-victimization of the process — it takes years to get your debt forgiven, in a lot of cases. This would make it easier to prove the debt wasn’t yours.”

Davis said that as an interior designer with her own business, she was at one point making $20 more an hour than her husband, but when she fled and went into hiding she was unable to return to that work. She told lawmakers Tuesday that it took her seven years after the split to work her way beyond the poverty line and to repair her credit.

“During the marriage there was no telling my former husband ‘no’ in regards to our finances or pretty much anything else for that matter,” Davis told the committee. “He would yell, become verbally abusive, throw objects, punch holes in the wall, threatening with violence, sometimes carrying out on those threats if I questioned him about his actions.”

The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence surveyed 135 domestic violence survivors in Maine in 2018 and found that 89 percent reported that their abusive partners reacted either negatively or very negatively when the issue of finances came up. The survey also showed that 74 percent said they were either never, infrequently or only occasionally accustomed to making their own financial decisions when in the abusive relationship; 72 percent said their abusive partners lied to them about money all the time or frequently; 72 percent said they had their personal purchases monitored all the time or frequently; and 63 percent said they always or frequently hid personal purchases for their children from their abusive partners.

In addition, 81 percent of survivors said financial issues were a barrier when they tried to break away from an abusive relationship, according to Francine Garland Stark, the coalition’s executive director.

“It’s really, really common, the kinds of troubles people were describing, and really disturbing,” Stark said in an interview.

She said abusers often lie about paying bills, which compounds financial problems for survivors if they can break free.

“So they are saying, ‘I’m taking care of the rent. Don’t worry about it,'” she said. “Then you find out three months later they haven’t been paying the rent at all, they have been using that money for something else and now you are facing the possibility of eviction and have this debt.”

She said the legislation proposed by Fay is an important step in getting survivors back to financial freedom and stability.

Davis said she’s “super grateful” to have the job she has now, but it’s not the work she went to school for or was able to excel at. “I’m in a cubicle now,” she said. “I started out making less than half of what I made prior. That’s what people have to go through. I had nothing, I had absolutely nothing to go on.”

Four other survivors of domestic violence also testified, saying they, too, were manipulated as their abusers used control of their money as a way to keep them from leaving, intimidate them or continue to damage their lives after they split.

Rachel Glaser, a resident of the Camden-Rockport area, said she lost her livelihood and all the equity in her home and saw her credit rating destroyed as she split with her former partner, who was also physically abusive.

“I worked hard my entire life and I earned $45,000 annually almost 13 years ago,” she said. Glaser, like Davis, was unable to return to her previous career field and said she now earns $11.54 an hour working part-time seasonal hours for L.L. Bean. She said she can work only four hours a day as a result of injuries she sustained in the relationship.

No one testified against the bill Tuesday, but a representative of the Maine Bankers Association, Kathleen Keneborous, offered neutral testimony that some of the bill’s provisions on debt collection and credit ratings may already be covered under federal identity theft laws.

The committee will hold a work session and vote on the bill, L.D. 748, later before moving it to the full Legislature for consideration.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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