Divorce is rarely a pleasant experience between divorcees. Even in the most amicable of cases, the stress of dividing the marital estate, assets, and finances can push many people to the breaking point. A divorce case often spirals quickly into hostile territory as each side makes its demands.
One way the legal system copes with this is through ATROs – automatic temporary restraining order – which is like the court establishing a code of conduct for divorcees by limiting their ability to interact with certain financial aspects of their marriage estate.
What Is an ATRO?
Although the term “restraining order” carries connotations of its own, in the context of divorce it refers to court orders that prohibit spouses from making certain financial activities that would violate the agency of the other party. This includes making insurance policy changes, changing bank accounts, or adjusting beneficiaries while the proceedings are in effect.
These orders are only temporary but they put a hard freeze on financial assets and situations during the length of the divorce. As divorce cases will adjust the financial status quo, an ATRO is a method for preventing insurance or healthcare policies from dropping either party.
ATROs are automatically put into effect during divorce proceedings. In addition to insurance policies and assets, they also prevent the removal of children from either party’s custody. It is worth noting, though, that they do not prohibit any changes to wills or trusts in the event of either party’s death.
An ATRO is a mutual court order – both parties are subject to the same prohibitions. It is also possible to change the terms of the restraining orders, so long as both parties agree.
Despite “automatic” being in the name of the restraining order, it is important to note that the courts do not notify banks or financial organizations of the divorce. This is the responsibility of the divorcees. California – unlike some states – does automatically issue ATROs during a divorce, but this is a prohibition, not a notification to the organizations in question.
What Happens If a Spouse Violates an ATRO?
While the purpose of an ATRO is to provide a measure of civility in divorce proceedings – preventing retaliation in the form of removal from health insurance policies or withdrawing all mutual funds – they are not simple formalities. Violating an ATRO is a criminal offense. The courts will hold a spouse in violation of a restraining order in contempt.
It is important to report an ATRO infraction as soon as possible. This form of order violation will require a criminal charge and can affect the divorce proceedings – particularly if they have been hiding or destroying assets to disguise their net worth.
The maintenance of a status quo prior to divorce is critical for an effective divorce case to proceed. Financial retaliation does not only hurt the affected party, but also risks the credibility of a divorce case. Part of the reason ATROs exist is to ensure that financial assets are fully accountable as they are at the beginning of a divorce case. Violation of an ATRO, therefore, represents more than petty revenge – it is akin to fraud.
If one party files a complaint for violation of an ATRO, it will temporarily halt the divorce case until the courts settle the criminal case. As the effects of violating an ATRO will affect all other aspects of the court case, it is important that the criminal suit be complete before proceeding with the divorce case. For help understanding the details of ATRO violation, discuss your case with an experienced Orange County family lawyer.