Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders / by Cassandra Hearn

At the beginning of any divorce, spouses to want to immediately start dividing finances, changing locks, canceling insurance, and stop sharing accounts. While this is a natural reaction to want to protect yourself, parties to a divorce need to be careful not to violate Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders, or “ATROs.” An ATRO comes into effect at the beginning of every divorce case, and becomes binding on the Petitioner once the Petition has been filed, and binding on the Respondent once the Summons has been served. These ATROs stay in effect until the final order is entered at the end of the case. It is essential to understand what the ATROs mean, as violation of the orders can result in sanctions, a contempt action, or other adverse consequences.

 An ATRO is a mutual restraining order, meaning that it keeps both parties from doing specific things, regardless of who filed first. The ATROs may be found on page two of the Summons that is served with all divorce cases. The ATROs affect both child custody issues and property issues. In terms of child custody, the ATROs will prevent either parent from leaving the state with the child unless the parent has the prior written consent of the other parent or a court order allowing it. It should be noted that this does not apply where the child already lived outside of the state of California before the petition was filed. In other words, if the child already lived in another state, the parent may not necessarily be required to bring the child back to California while the suit is pending.

 An ATRO will also impact what the parties are allowed to do with their property and debts. Neither party is allowed to dispose of or encumber property, even if it is separate property. This includes taking out loans, draining joint checking accounts and putting the money in a separate account, or giving valuable items to other people to “hold” for you. You may use funds or obtain loans if this is for typical business expenses or life necessities. It is also not permitted to cancel, cash out, or borrow against any insurance policies. This includes life, health, dental, and automobile insurance policies.

 It should be noted that payment of attorney’s fees is specifically excluded from ATROs. This means that a party is allowed to encumber property or use community funds to hire an attorney.

 The beginning of a divorce is a stressful time, and you need an experienced attorney to help you understand how to get started and stay on the right track. Contact us today at 619-800-0384 to discuss your case and your future.