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Your Rights During a California Divorce

When you get married, you and your spouse agree to exchange certain rights guaranteed to single people in exchange for rights and responsibilities towards each other. It should be no surprise that getting divorced also affects your legal rights. In the time between when you file for divorce and when your separation is finalized, you will face certain restrictions to ensure that neither you nor your spouse can harm the other financially. 

While these restrictions can feel like a punishment, they are intended to help you. Here’s what you need to know about how and why your rights are affected by divorce and what you can do to continue living your life despite the restrictions.

California Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (ATROs) and Divorce

In California, when you file for divorce, you and your spouse are immediately subject to automatic temporary restraining orders, or ATROs. These orders are present on the paperwork required to notify your spouse of divorce, and they apply to both of you equally. They go into effect the moment that each partner is aware that divorce is being filed. If you’re the one filing, they kick in when you submit the paperwork. If you have received divorce papers, they automatically apply from the moment you were served. 

ATROs are also known as financial restraining orders because they are primarily intended to prevent either spouse from significantly altering the couple’s joint financial circumstances. Unfortunately, many spouses enter the divorce process looking for ways to hurt the other or “win” the process. Ways they may attempt this is by draining joint bank accounts, giving away assets, making significant financial changes to their joint property, or absconding with shared children. 

ATROs restrict this behavior by instituting significant penalties for taking financial or parental actions outside of normal living. That’s also why they apply equally to both spouses, regardless of who filed. Either person may be motivated to harm the other person or take more than their fair share, so the restrictions must apply to both. 

How ATROs Impact Your Rights

ATROs are different from the popular conception of restraining orders. They don’t prevent you from contacting anyone or restrict your movement and aren’t put in place because of alleged wrongdoing. Instead, they prohibit you from taking specific financial or parental actions to reduce the risk of future harm. 

That means an ATRO doesn’t alter your ability to live your everyday life. It restricts your rights to make significant changes to your financial status. So how do ATROs affect your rights? Limitations in the standard ATRO include prohibitions on:

  • Removing children of the parties from the state: You cannot take children you share with your spouse out of the state if they currently live in California. However, you are not required to move the children to California if they currently live elsewhere.
  • Transferring ownership of joint property: You can’t give away or sell assets you own with your spouse, and you can’t use joint assets as collateral for loans. This includes giving assets to someone else to hold for you until the divorce is final.
  • Making excessive purchases: You can’t buy property during divorce. Making excessive purchases is a form of transferring ownership of property. Buying high-value assets like homes, vehicles, and jewelry is considered a way of trying to change your financial situation and is barred by ATROs.
  • Closing joint accounts: You cannot close any joint account while getting divorced or transfer the funds from these accounts into your own personal accounts. 
  • Concealing joint assets: You may not, under any circumstances, attempt to hide common assets to prevent them from being considered during the property division process
  • Altering beneficiaries of insurance coverage: You can’t change the beneficiaries on life insurance or health insurance until your divorce is final. You also may not cancel or cash out these policies. 

The only exception to these rules is if you receive the prior written consent of the other party. Without that consent, the actions above are considered violations of the ATRO and may incur heavy legal penalties. 

What to Know About Following ATROs

Following ATROs is not as difficult as it may appear. Essentially, ATROs are intended to keep your financial situation as stable as possible. While it is tempting to start separating your finances as quickly as possible, under ATRO financial rules during divorce, you need to keep your finances consistent.

However, you retain the right to make changes not listed in the ATRO. For instance, even under an ATRO, you may still:

  • Pay bills, buy groceries, and make routine purchases within your standard expenses
  • Withdraw funds from joint accounts to pay for your divorce attorney
  • Change where your job deposits your paycheck from a joint account into a personal account
  • Create or revoke a will that names your spouse as a beneficiary
  • Rent an apartment to move away from your spouse with five days’ written notice
  • Cancel or change phone plans or credit cards
  • Transfer, give away, or alter your sole property

In short, you can still go about your regular routine. While ATROs restrict your rights, so long as you understand the restrictions and approach the divorce process in good faith, you should not have trouble abiding by the limits.

Legal Representation for Divorce ATRO Matters

If you have concerns about how an ATRO may affect your rights and finances during your divorce, do not hesitate to seek qualified legal representation. It is always better to be cautious and ensure that you are following the letter of the law than risk financial and legal consequences. 

At Kaspar & Lugay, LLP, we can advise you on the impact of an ATRO on your finances and how to abide by the restrictions for the duration of your divorce. Learn more about how we can protect your rights during divorce by scheduling your consultation with our knowledgeable Marin County family law attorneys today.