Whether your decision to divorce is a sudden or a long-expected event, there are specific steps you need to take from the beginning of the divorce process to protect yourself, your children, and your finances. Clearly, this is not to suggest you need to empty your bank accounts and remove everything from your home, but there are some reasonable steps you should take to safeguard your interests.
The suggestions below are intended to provide you with information so you can make wise decisions. It assumes you are going through a contested and adversarial divorce, not one where you and your spouse mostly agree on divorce issues.
Keep in mind that every divorce is unique. Obviously, divorces are much easier to get through when you both spouses make a good faith effort to work together in a civil and reasonable manner. Many divorces are fairly amicable. In California, after divorce papers are served, the judge will typically hold a temporary hearing to make interim orders related to how you will manage during the process.
Things didn't work out and now it's time to call it quits. No real animosity involved, and there may even be general agreement about how to deal with the division of property and custody of any children resulting from the marriage. Everything is reasonably friendly and peaceful. Ideally, all divorces would be like this.
Unfortunately, many are not. Divorces can be downright hostile. Some of them are nasty and resemble domestic warfare more than a civil parting of ways. Under circumstances like that, how can you protect your rights to an equitable settlement of property from a vengeful spouse?
Your first priority is to hire a Los Angeles divorce lawyer right away. No spouse should enter a Los Angeles family law court without competent counsel. You should interview experienced family law attorneys by asking all the important questions about your divorce and child custody. Fortunately, California law includes provisions that can help keep such nasty situations from escalating into an effort to deprive you of your rights.
California Law Provides for an Automatic Restraining Order to Protect Your Rights
Under California Code, Family Code Section 2040, as soon as you file for divorce, a series of automatic temporary restraining orders, sometimes referred to as ATROS, go into effect. These ATROS are intended to keep the situation stable while your divorce case makes its way through the legal process.
The ATROS take effect on the filing party as soon as divorce papers are filed, and take effect on the non-filing spouse as soon as divorce papers are served. The ATROS orders prevent any major changes in child custody or financial arrangements during the divorce case.
If you are the spouse who files for divorce, you are immediately bound by the ATROS provisions and actually must certify that you understand what those provisions are. Similarly, if you are the spouse who is served with divorce papers, you are bound by the ATROS provisions once you are served. In either case, you should be sure to have the ATROS provisions explained to you clearly by your divorce attorney. The consequences of failing to comply with the provisions are potentially severe. Call a Los Angeles divorce lawyer at our law firm for more information.
What Does ATROS Do?
The intent of the automatic orders is to maintain the status quo – to keep things largely the same while your divorce case proceeds. This means that neither spouse can take steps to make major changes in the financial situation of the family. At the same time, neither spouse can do certain things that would change the custody situation with respect to any children the couple might have together.
Broadly, ATROS prevents four major actions:
- You cannot remove any children of the marriage from the state of California, nor can you prevent your spouse from having access to the children;
- You cannot sell, otherwise transfer, take loans against or take other actions involving or disposing of real or personal property without the written consent of the other spouse or a court order;
- You cannot change, cancel, cash in or make other changes to life, health, auto or disability insurance that is held for the benefit of either the children or the other spouse, including changes to beneficiaries; and
- You cannot make non-probate transfers of property in any way that affect how the property will be disposed of without the written consent of the other spouse or a court order.
All of these provisions can be changed by written consent of your spouse or by court order. While the ATROS prevents you from obtaining new passports for your children, you may be allowed to do so if you are taking a vacation out of the country. The goal is to prevent abduction of the children or keeping them away from your spouse, not to interfere with your life.
The financial constraints likewise are intended to prevent you from keeping property or funds away from your estranged spouse. This simply means there are constraints that don't allow you to:
- Give away property;
- Spend money on things other than everyday expenses;
- Take out loans with your property as collateral, including second mortgages or home equity lines of credit; or
- Drain all funds from joint checking or savings accounts.
If you operate your own business, you likely will be able to continue to use funds for that. Also, you are allowed to pay attorney's fees and costs in connection with your divorce case. The ATROS requirements can be complex, and the penalties for violating them can be severe, including criminal penalties and major fines. You should be sure to hire competent legal counsel to help you understand what ATROS does and does not allow.
Facing a Contested Divorce in the Los Angeles? We Can Help
If you are getting divorced in the Los Angeles area and things look contentious, contact the Los Angeles divorce attorneys of Furman & Zavatsky LLP. Do not sign ANY documents. Many spouses will make the mistake of signing papers that later cause property and custody battles to be decided against them. In some divorce cases, these documents can't be modified by an attorney later.
If your spouse requests your signature on some paperwork, politely decline and tell them your divorce lawyer told you not to sign anything until they have a chance to review the documents. If you planning a divorce, one of the firsts steps you can take is to reach out for legal help. We are here and ready to review the details of your case. Contact us at 818-528-3471 to schedule a free consultation. Our law firm serves the greater Los Angeles are and the San Fernando Valley.
Furman & Zavatsky LLP
15821 Ventura Blvd #690
Encino, CA 91436