Amy Kukec is a Domestic Violence Survivor. Like many Domestic Violence victims, even though she was able to break free from the violence and abuse, she is now left with a financial burden and hardship that puts her and her three kids in jeopardy.
I help women who don’t qualify for legal aid to get divorced which many don’t because their husbands use the legal system to not have to pay support. I learned this from my previous domestic violence relationship in 1997.
My ex had a lot of money and he took me to court for seven years (2004-2010) for sport, to “bankrupt” me. Which he did. In time, I owed $25,000 in legal fees. I would have given up but instead I emailed about 200 women’s organizations telling them about my situation. Equality Now found me a large firm in Chicago (Administer justice) who would represent me pro bono and they did so for 5 years. I learned a lot about the legal system and how corrupt it can be. Many women in Domestic Violence relationships only file for orders of protection and then can’t afford to get divorced. When my case was over, I started helping other women find that same representation. I had a 100% success rate.
Then seven years ago, I met my ex-husband and entered my second Domestic Violence relationship. Once I became a victim again, I had to stop helping other women as I was being broken down and couldn’t give to others what I couldn’t give to myself. I ended up with a severed tailbone when he picked me up and threw me down on the open dishwasher. This injury cannot be fixed and I’m preparing for my 5th shot in the back and will require physical therapy for the rest of my life. It was not the first abusive act and it wasn’t the last. The police were called many, many times but because his mother is a clerk for the judges in our county, they would drive him to her house instead of pressing charges. The police finally arrested him in January 2014.
In December 2013, I allowed my ex-husband to use my personal account. I was a stay at home mom with two toddlers (ages 4 and 3) and had no income. He left the account overdrawn and never paid the bank fees. I was put on Chex Systems, which kept me from getting a bank account and employment. Due to limited put on by Chex Systems, I was not allowed to have a job where I work with money even though prior to being a stay at home mom, I had a career in banking, mortgages and finance. I worked with a local Domestic Violence organization and attended Career Club for four months to resolve this situation.
The DV organization (Family Shelter Service) agreed to pay Chase Bank and Chase agreed to remove me from Chex Systems if the Domestic Violence organization and I wrote a letter explaining what happened, which we did. I even received a confirmation email stating this agreement, but it never happened. I was then told by the bank that they empathizewith me because so many innocent people end up in this same situation and have a hard time getting past the FCRA. From my experience with banking, I knew that if they cleared my case, they would be required to do it for all and that’s why I was so excited that they agreed until they decided they wouldn’t. Thus for the past 10 months, I have not had my own bank account nor was able to get one.
Legally, there is no punishment for financial abuse. None. Currently, the standard is that your spouse doesn’t have to share marital money to provide for basic needs. Abusers never do and the men and women who are their victims end up in shelters or homeless, unable to find place to rent, or find child care for work.
I decided to start the petition to help the many victims of Domestic Violence like myself. So many times, the abuser takes the money and opens bank accounts elsewhere, leaving nothing to the spouse. An example of this was when my ex-husband left me with unpaid IPASS (Illinois toll system) fees. Even though the IPASS account was in his name, because the vehicle is registered to me, I am left with the debt. I had to apply for hardship to prevent my license from getting suspended as well as sign the vehicle over to a neighbor.
My ex-husband has tried to shut off our electricity and get myself and the children evicted from our home. I got a court order to require him to pay rent and $100 in support per week, which he’s behind by $3,000. I have applied for LIHEAP for gas and electricity because the bills my ex-husband left were over $1,000 past due as a result of not paying them for 10 months. We thankfully have a landlord that we’ve rented from for 6 years and feels for me and the kids; any other landlord would have evicted us already. But even an understanding landlord has a mortgage to pay and gets upset when payment is 3 months late. On top of all this, my ex-husband took our 2013 tax return and had it deposited directly to his bank account without telling me. I contacted the IRS and our tax preparer and was told that he could legally do this.
My goal of Change.Org petition is to get the FCRA to include regulations for Domestic Violence victims: provide access to a free account because victims are often financially ruined and require state aid as I did for the first time in my life at age 41; ensure that these Domestic Violence accounts are single user only, because victims are often pressured by their abuser to have a joint account or to let them have access in order to “keep the peace”; after a year, victims can have access to a true bank account. I would like to call these Domestic Violence accounts “Freedom Accounts.”
Related: Amy’s Change.org Petition
In addition to the debt left behind by my soon to be ex-husband, I am paying for my kids’ pre-school tuition, water, gas for the van my sister gave me, internet access, cell phones so my kids can get a hold of me anytime because my husband is dangerous. I currently need new brakes and an oil change on my car. My family has helped to keep my kids in school, keep the water and heat on, but it’s hard on them to help me all the time. I get $500 a month in support from a family member which pays our car insurance and cell phones. My kids’ clothes are now either donated or bought by family. I use birthday gift cards to buy my kids winter coats, gloves and hats but haven’t gotten their winter shoes yet. I haven’t had a winter coat in two years. For interviews, I use clothing vouchers from the family shelter. I am now on food stamps for the first time in my life. I am not one to take handouts. I was an independent, single mother before and never took aid. I worked hard to keep us going. I was never in the position of depending on anyone until 2011 and never imagined in my life that at 41 I would be on food stamps, Medicaid, and unable to find a job.
From all these events, I have been diagnosed with PTSD and are in treatment. My three children and I are on prescribed stomach medicine Prevacid due to stress, which Medicaid does not cover for myself and my oldest daughter. The kids attend a Domestic Violence group which we call “fun class.” We all get help. I am spending a lot of time in therapy to make sure I never repeat the pattern. I am currently back in school part time to finish my associate’s degree and am looking for work with the help of a family shelter service. My goal is to be able to support my kids and to pay it forward to others because people have helped us through this, the hardest time in my life.
I wish all organizations could rally as one on financial abuse and change it because many more victims would leave, and stay gone, and not require state assistance which would save the States millions.
– Written by Amy, Edited by Dana
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