Automatic Restraining Orders in Divorce

//Automatic Restraining Orders in Divorce

Automatic Restraining Orders in Divorce

When clients are served with divorce papers, they are often confused about why there is a restraining order included. They may have done nothing to necessitate a restraining order, and can become concerned with how they are going to pay for things like a mortgage or expenses involving children.
Several years ago, New York instituted automatic restraining orders in reaction to a common practice of many litigants who got served with divorce papers – they would immediately empty the bank accounts! Rather than force lawyers to file restraining orders after the fact or hopefully prior to assets being drained, now the plaintiff is bound by the orders upon the filing of the divorce and the defendant is bound upon being served. Under the orders there are certain things you should and should not be doing, and there are consequences if either party violates them.
You are allowed to spend money on “customary and usual household expenses” and “reasonable attorney’s fees.” The idea behind the orders is that you can – and are required to – maintain the status quo. Assuming your children have always gone to private school and camp, you can still pay for those things. Mortgage and food are also items that fall under everyday living expenses. The list of things you are not allowed to spend on or change is much longer. For instance, neither of you are allowed to drop the other or the children from medical or auto insurance policies. You also cannot re-title anything, whether it be a car, a home or a bank account. You should also not change beneficiaries on insurance policies and bank accounts. Both spouses are restrained from taking out additional credit or maxing out existing credit except for “customary and usual household expenses” and “reasonable attorney’s fees.” The caveat here is that you may not do these things unless you have written permission from your spouse, so if you both decide to sell a jointly titled asset during the litigation, there should not be a problem.
What if despite being bound by the orders a litigant does drain an account or change a beneficiary? The courts have the power to force a litigant to reinstate beneficiaries, pay back the funds, or face contempt of court. In order for the court to find the litigant who defies the automatic orders in contempt, there has to be a finding that (1) the litigant has knowledge of the order; (2) the litigant has to have disobeyed the order and; (3) the rights of the other party were prejudiced by the violation of the order. In a New York County case, the Judge found that despite the husband purchasing a four-million-dollar house in Connecticut with marital funds, he had not reached the level of contempt as the marital estate was worth twelve million dollars, and he had simply converted a liquid asset into real estate. In other words, the wife was still going to get her equitable distribution, because he had not dissipated the assets and only changed their form. The Judge in that case did admonish the husband for the violation, and issued a restraining order to prevent further incidents. Another exception was in a Westchester County case where the Plaintiff, despite being bound, changed her 401K designation as well as her life insurance beneficiaries during the pendency of the divorce and later committed suicide. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction to enforce the automatic orders because the Plaintiff’s death ended the divorce action. Overall, you should feel confident that you are allowed to continue living as you have been. However, it is always a good idea to consult your attorney prior to any questionable transaction during a divorce proceeding.

By | 2017-01-13T14:59:36+00:00 September 22nd, 2016|Divorce Law|0 Comments

About the Author:

Deborah E. Kaminetzky
Deborah E. Kaminetzky is the founder of Kaminetzky Law & Mediation, P.C. located in Long Beach, New York. Prior to starting the firm Deborah worked at a Long Island firm where she learned the practice of Matrimonial and Family law and Estate Planning. Deborah has also worked at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs where she was responsible for prosecuting unlicensed home improvement contractors and negotiating settlements for consumers. Prior to practicing law, Ms. Kaminetzky was the president of a commercial property management corporation in the New York Metro area. Ms. Kaminetzky is a member of the National Association of Divorce Professionals, New York State Council on Divorce Mediation, Family and Divorce Mediation Council of Greater New York, New York State Bar Association (Business Law, Estate, Family Law, ADR and General Practice Sections), Nassau County Bar Association (where she serves as Chair of the General, Solo and Practice Management Committee and The Nassau County Women’s Bar Association. Ms. Kaminetzky was appointed to the Committee on Law Practice Management of the New York State Bar Association in 2015 and has been a frequent speaker and author of articles for their journal. Ms. Kaminetzky serves on the Board of Directors of the Yashar Attorney and Judges Chapter of Hadassah as a their Treasurer, and was their Woman of the Year 2012 and Leadership award honoree in 2019. Deborah graduated from New York Law School in 1991 and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1986. Ms. Kaminetzky was admitted to the First Department in 1991 and the United States Supreme Court Bar in February of 2015. Deborah is on the Matrimonial fee dispute arbitration panel for Nassau County. She expanded her alternative dispute resolution practice by completing a Mediation certificate program in December of 2013, an advanced Mediation certificate program in 2015 and most recently a Divorce Mediation certificate in early 2016 from The New York Peace Institute. Ms. Kaminetzky has spoken to various groups on topics including matrimonial law, technology and social media use, and disaster preparedness for business including cybersecurity.