What is the Automatic Restraining Order in a Divorce Case?

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A question that frequently comes up in a divorce is what effect the filing has on the financial lives of the parties. Can they still use the joint credit card? Change the beneficiaries on the life insurance policy? Spend money?

Supplemental Probate and Family Court Rule 411, also known as the "automatic restraining order," answers most of these questions. It provides what could be described as "rules of the road" for the management of the family's finances during the pendency of the divorce, listing permitted actions and prohibiting certain transactions with limited exceptions. 

The automatic restraining order, which is effective as to the plaintiff upon the date of the filing, and as to the defendant upon the date of service of the summons, applies as follows:

It prohibits parties from (among other transactions) selling, transferring, or disposing of property unless it is required for reasonable living expenses, done in the usual and ordinary course of business or investments, or paying attorneys' fees and costs. The parties may also agree to waive this provision, or to seek an order from the court permitting a certain transaction. In essence, this provision allows one to continue to shop for groceries or pay tuition bills, for example, but prohibits - absent agreement or court order - larger transactions, such as buying or selling real estate or a vehicle.

It prohibits parties from incurring further debts that would burden the credit of the other party. This can take many forms, but the rule explicitly mentions unreasonably using credit cards and borrowing against a credit line secured by real estate.

It prohibits parties from changing the beneficiaries of any life insurance policy or retirement asset, unless there is written consent from the other party.

It also prohibits either party from directly or indirectly causing the other party or the children to be removed from coverage under an existing insurance policy, whether it is medical, dental, life, automobile, or disability.

This automatic restraining order is automatically vacated when a judgment of divorce or separate support enters.

Although this is a comprehensive summary of the rule, unique situations can (and often do) arise. If there is any ambiguity about whether the rule applies, a party who is getting a divorce, or contemplating or anticipating one, should consult with a family law attorney for more information. 

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