Coerced Debt in Abusive Relationships

Updates on research and publications investigating economic abuse in relationships. 

Featured Study: Debt as a Control Tactic in Marriage

Project Details

Funder: National Science Foundation

Project Duration: 2019-2021

Lead Investigator: Dr. Adrienne Adams


“Coerced debt” is an important but understudied form of intimate partner violence (IPV). It occurs when abusers in intimate relationships use fraud or coercion to generate debt in their partners’ names. For example, abusers may fraudulently incur car loans in their partners’ names or force them to make credit card purchases. Preliminary evidence suggests that coerced debt is a common problem with damaging effects on the lives of women with abusive partners. It can burden victims with hundreds or thousands of dollars in debt and damage their credit ratings, thus creating barriers to employment, housing, and utility services. These debts and barriers may be associated with long-term economic harm in large part because victims of coerced debt have difficulty attaining effective help from the two relevant legal systems: divorce law and debtor-creditor law. Despite these potential impacts of coerced debt, the research remains in its infancy. This project will be the first in-depth study of coerced debt. It will address fundamental questions about how coerced debt operates in abusive relationships, how victims seek and attain legal help for coerced debt, and coerced debt’s effects on women’s recovery from an abusive relationship.

Project Goals

Expand Field Knowledge

The data qualitative data collected in this study will be used to gain a deeper, more nuanced understanding of how victims of coerced debt experience it in the broader context of abuse, facilitators of and barriers to attaining help through the divorce system, and the process by which coerced debt shapes victims’ lives.

Influence Change

In addition to publishing scholarship, the researchers will disseminate the findings to policy makers, service providers, and attorneys with the goal of ensuring that interventions to address coerced debt are evidence-based.

Related Publications

  • Coming Soon!

Research Team

Kennedy, Angie C., Ph.D.

Curriculum Vitae About Dr. Kennedy is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Michigan State University. She has been committed to working to end violence against women...

Adams, Adrienne, Ph.D.

About Dr. Adams is an assistant professor of Ecological/Community Psychology at Michigan State University. She has been committed to ending violence against women since the late 1990s when she worked...

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