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Can I keep my personal property and leave an abusive relationship?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed September 2019

"Personal property" is something you own that you can move. It is not real estate. It is not land or a house. Personal property includes things like:

  • cars,
  • clothes,
  • furniture,
  • appliances,
  • jewelry,
  • bank accounts,
  • dishes, and
  • toys.

The law about splitting up personal property is different for married and unmarried people.

If you are married and you decide to get divorced, you go to court. At court, the judge divides your property between you and your spouse.

If you are not married, and you decide your relationship is over, you do not go to court. So a judge does not divide property between you and your partner. There is no law about dividing your property when you leave your partner.

If you leave a relationship because of domestic violence you may go to court because you need a 209A protective order. If you think it is safe to stay at home, you can ask the judge to order the abusive person to leave. If you can stay at home, you can probably keep most of your things.

You may decide it is not safe to stay. If it is not safe to stay at home, you can ask the judge to make an order that you can go back and get your things. Sometimes you cannot get your property back, but the court can order “compensation.” The judge can order the person who abused you to pay for some of the things you had to leave behind.

Your safety is always the most important thing to keep in mind.

  • Sometimes you need to get away as quickly as you can. You have no time to get your things.
  • Sometimes you have time to think ahead so you can figure out how to have your things when you leave and stay safe.
  • Sometimes it is safe to stay home.  But you need to know what to do so you can stay safe.

If are thinking of leaving the person who abuses you, try to speak with a domestic violence advocate. A trained advocate can help you plan the safest way to keep your personal property.

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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