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What about bank accounts?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 2019

You may need the money in your bank account to pay first and last month's rent on an apartment, or to pay the mortgage, or to buy food. If you do not protect your bank account, the person who abused you might take all the money out of it. Sometimes the person who abused you goes right to the bank and takes all of the money out of the account right after getting served with a 209A protective order.

The most common types of bank accounts that couples have are:

  • joint savings accounts;
  • joint checking accounts; and
  • individual checking and savings accounts.

Joint accounts

All the money in joint accounts belongs to both of you. Either of you can go to the bank and take out all of the money in a joint account. This is true whether or not you are married.

Individual accounts

For individual accounts, only the person whose name is on the account can go to the bank and take out money. If your name is not on the individual account, you must have a court order to take money out of it.

If you are married

If you are married, the Probate and Family Court can divide up the money in all the joint accounts and individual accounts. When you are married, all of your property belongs to the two of you together, no matter whose name it is in.

If you are married, and you file for Divorce or a Complaint for Separate Support, you can get a court order about bank accounts . As soon as you file one of these complaints, the Probate and Family Court will issue an "automatic restraining order" about the bank accounts15. The order will say that:

  1. the two of you can only spend money from joint or individual bank accounts for “reasonable expenses of living,” like rent, food, and utilities and
  2. you can only spend money on anything else if you both agree to it or the court orders that you can. 

An automatic restraining order temporarily “freezes” your bank accounts.  It also says that you cannot borrow money that your spouse will have to pay off and you cannot cut off health, dental, or car insurance. An automatic restraining order is not the same as the 209A protective order, that can protect you from abuse.

Sometimes the person who abused you will spend the money in a bank account even after the court orders not to. It is important to keep as many records as you can about your bank accounts in case the person who abused you spends the money. You will need to prove that the money was in the account when the judge made the order. You also need to prove that you were not the one who spent it.

Who to call for help

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

Chapter 11. Appendix

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