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New Texas law will provide relief for victims of 'coerced debt'

Many Texans find out only as they go through the divorce process that their spouse has opened credit cards or taken out a loan or line of credit in their name. They may be responsible for many thousands of dollars in debt they can't afford to pay off and left with a credit score that makes getting credit in their own name difficult to impossible.

Now, thanks to a new state law, beginning this September, victims of what has been termed "coerced debt" can charge their spouse with identity theft. This will give them access to the same remedies and protections available to victims of more "traditional" identity theft. That includes being able to get negative information resulting from the theft removed from your credit report.

The law expands the definition of identity theft to include instances where a person uses someone's identifying information "without that person's "effective consent." One Texas attorney says that it can be part of a pattern of domestic abuse. She explains that previously "the way that the identity theft statute defined identity theft had to be without a person's consent. So consent was with knowledge, permission, but it didn't take into account scenarios when somebody was either under threat of violence or under duress or coercion by somebody else."

In some cases, they simply had no idea that their spouse was opening a joint card or one solely in their name. The University of Texas law professor who coined the term "coerced debt" notes that it's a type of financial abuse that "ranges from abusers taking out credit cards in their partners' names without their knowledge, to forcing victims to obtain loans for the abuser, to tricking victims into signing quitclaim deeds for the family home."

A group called the Texas Coalition on Coerced Debt, which is made up of legal professionals and domestic violence victims advocates, is working on a toolkit that will help people determine whether they are victims of coerced debt. If you're going through a divorce and learn (or already know) that your spouse has racked up debt in your name that you didn't know about or agree to, your family law attorney can help you determine what options you have.

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