NEW CANAAN -- Bankwell Financial Group's Peyton Patterson, whose personal financial problems made recent headlines, has resigned from her positions as chief executive officer, president and board member, the company announced today.

Patterson has been hit with a series of civil lawsuits and was recently ordered to pay nearly $400,000 to two private country clubs and a credit card company after the three successfully sued her for outstanding debt, according to the state Department of Justice website.

"After careful consideration and discussions with the board, I have decided it is in the best interests of the company to resign from my positions," Patterson said in a news release. "I am incredibly proud of what we achieved during my time at Bankwell and did not want my personal matters to overshadow the accomplishments and hard work of our team. I am certain the company's comprehensive product offerings, strong financial position and experienced leadership will ensure its continued success."

Her resignation is effective immediately.

Bankwell Chairman Blake Drexler has been appointed executive chairman by the Board of Directors and will assume Patterson's responsibilities at the New Canaan-based financial group, according to a news release.

The board has formed a search committee to find a new chief executive officer and will consider internal and outside candidates for the job, the release states. Once the search is complete, Drexler will return to his role of non-executive chairman, according to the statement.

"I would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to Peyton for her significant contributions to the company during her tenure," Drexler said in the release. "Peyton's leadership and dedication was a key component of our successful initial public offering, and we wish her the best in her future endeavors. One of her greatest legacies is the strong, experienced executive team she helped assemble. This will allow for a smooth transition of responsibilities without any disruptions to the business. I am confident the depth of our executive team, strong financial position and talented employees will ensure Bankwell continues on its upward trajectory."

Patterson joined Bankwell as a strategic officer in spring 2012. She had just engineered the $1.5 billion sale of New Haven-based NewAlliance Bank and months later became Bankwell's CEO and president. During Patterson's tenure over the last year and a half, Bankwell acquired The Wilton Bank; launched new wealth and cash management services and, most recently, gone public.

Bankwell Financial Group, which opened 12 years ago, went public May 15 with a $48.6 million initial public offering. The price per share has remained steady since then and just over $1 short of the $18 initial offering, according to NASDAQ.

The company has two banks each in New Canaan and Fairfield, one in Stamford, one in Wilton, as well as a loan-processing facility in Bridgeport.

-- Nelson Oliveira