You’ve decided that you want a divorce, and are pretty sure that your spouse is not going to be gracious when you tell them. You wouldn’t put it past him or her to spitefully take money from a joint account to reduce the financial resources you can take away with you. Is there anything that can be done to stop this from happening?

Yes. It’s called an automatic temporary restraining order, or automatic order for short.

Once a divorce action has been initiated, and your spouse is informed, automatic orders come into effect that prevents either of you from making changes to marital, financial asset or business assets, insurance policies, etc. Whoever initiates the divorce is bound by the order the moment the paperwork is filed with the court, and the other spouse will be bound as soon as he or she receives notice of the divorce action.

Prohibited actions include:

  • Drawing substantial amounts of money from marital bank accounts
  • Switching the beneficiary of any current life insurance policy
  • Removing the other spouse or the children from a dental or health insurance plan
  • Incurring unreasonable debt (e.g. maxing out joint credit cards)

Automatic orders prevent you or your spouse from transferring business interests to a relative or friend, start drawing on pensions, siphoning marital funds into a private account or, in general, doing anything that would be to the detriment of the other party when it comes time to divide assets according to New York’s equitable distribution laws.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t access money or other resources to go about your usual routine. You may withdraw funds from marital bank accounts to cover family-related costs such as groceries, utility bills, and personal care items. If you have already been drawing a pension, then there is no need to stop. You can even use money from a joint bank account to hire an attorney to represent you during the divorce action. Just don’t do anything unusual or excessive; such activities could give your spouse grounds to claim that you are dissipating marital assets.

If one of you violates an automatic temporary restraining order, then there can (and likely will) be consequences. For example, you may be subjected to legal ramifications or ordered to pay back whatever money you or your spouse withdrew. Never forget that automatic orders are legally binding, and disregarding them can make more trouble than either of you might expect.

If you are planning to file for divorce and have questions about the scope of an automatic order, then contact a New York family law attorney. They will advise you on correct procedure and help you protect your rights so that you receive what you are entitled to once marital assets are distributed. Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, NY divorce and family court attorney with more than 33 years of legal experience. He offers free in-person consultations. Call 718-514-6619 to schedule an appointment. Visit www.MyNewYorkCityLawyer.com to learn more about Mr. Lutzky.