California and the Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders

When you think of restraining orders, it conjures images of domestic abuse and stalking. That’s not always the case. There are restraining orders that have nothing to do with physical abuse. California has automatic temporary restraining orders (ATRO) that happen without either party needing to petition the court. In California, once a divorce petition is filed, an automatic temporary restraining order is put into place to protect marital assets and prevent either party from liquidating joint property.

What is the Purpose of the Automatic Temporary Restraining Order?

Divorce can bring out the worst side of a person. In a community property state like California, it could be financially devastating if one spouse was allowed to make unilateral financial choices to benefit their interest solely. Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders are designed to prevent this from happening.

California family court puts a temporary freeze on financial and legal actions when any of the following legal petitions are filed:

  • A summons of dissolution (divorce)
  • A summons of legal separation
  • A summons of nullity (annulment)
  • A summons of paternity action

When the paperwork for a summons is completed, the automatic temporary restraining order filing is on the same form. They are processed simultaneously, and while it may be an inconvenience, it’s a safeguard to prevent either partner from making changes that could impact a couple’s shared financial position.

ATRO vs. Standard Restraining Orders

Unlike basic restraining orders, automatic temporary restraining orders do not require proof of wrongdoing, nor are they directed toward one party – they’re applied to the situation instead of to the person. Basic restraining orders are more adversarial and directed toward protecting one party from another. Standard restraining orders are protective because they are used to restrict actions, access, and overall contact. Because automatic temporary restraining orders are applied to both parties in the filing, it’s less restrictive and more mutually applied.

Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders provide financial security for both parties in a family law filing. It serves as a financial stopgap that keeps each party from making unilateral decisions. Once enacted, neither party would be able to do any of the following:

  • Creating or changing bank accounts or account access
  • Changing or taking out new insurance policies on either partner
  • Removing anyone from any insurance coverage
  • Destroying or hiding any asset
  • Taking out loans on any asset that may be community property

The automatic temporary restraining order does not prevent either party from making financial decisions in line with managing daily financial needs like:

  • Paying attorney fees
  • Paying rent or mortgages
  • Paying off communal debts
  • Covering day-to-day living expenses

Major changes or expenditures that could change or impact the couple's financial health are restricted, but expenses that would be categorized as living expenses are permitted. The restraining order remains in effect as long as it takes a final judgment to be entered into the court system. It’s important to note that an automatic temporary restraining order also limits what parents with minor children can do without the consent of their co-parent until a custody agreement is settled and entered into the system. So, a parent could not take the children out of the state or country without the other parent's approval.

Penalties for Violating an ATRO

Just like any legal judgment or court order, penalties for violating an automatic temporary restraining order includes fines and the possibility of contempt of court charges if the court determines the actions were willful and purposeful.

Divorce Attorneys Available for Consultations

If you are ready to start processing your divorce, contact our Elk Grove divorce attorneys today. At Samra Dhillon & Associates, we are dedicated to helping couples get through their divorce without adding more stress to the situation. Contact us now at (916) 571-1550 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.