An Automatic Restraining Order, often referred to as an ATRO, is a mutual court order, issued at the beginning of the divorce process. An ATRO is helpful because it essentially freezes the assets of the marriage until property can be divided.
The ATRO prohibits either spouse from:
- Selling, transferring or borrowing against marital property
- Changing insurance benefits held for the other spouse
- Modifying beneficiaries on life insurance, health insurance, retirement accounts and other documents
- Changing bank accounts
- Destroying, disposing of or hiding assets
This is especially helpful, if a spouse does not have direct control or access to the finances. During the divorce, the spouse with control of the assets cannot dissipate or sell off property without the other spouse's consent.
An ATRO allows forensic accountants and attorneys to assess and value the marital estate. A lot of transferring and selling of assets during a pending divorce makes valuing assets more difficult and more expensive.
How Automatic Is an Automatic Restraining Order?
In California, ATROs are automatic and included on the back of the Summons of a Petition for Dissolution. They are immediately effective once the divorce is filed and served upon the other party. The ATRO stays in effect until a final judgment is issued by the court.
Even with an automatic ATRO, you still may need to alert companies that may be affected. For example, if you are getting divorced and an ATRO has been issued that prohibits the modification of beneficiaries, it is important that you notify the insurance and investment companies that the ATRO is in place. This will keep your spouse from changing the beneficiaries on those accounts.
Source: Forbes, "Divorcing Women: Here's What You Need to Know About ATROs," Jeff Landers, July 11, 2012.