Marriages are defined by two dates. First, the date of marriage and second, the date of separation. The date of separation can occur before the divorce petition is filed, and is defined as the date signifying a complete and final break in the marital relationship. So, with all of that information, you would assume that you would be free to do whatever you wanted after the date of separation, right? Wrong!
In California, Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (ATROs) go into place as soon as you are served with a Summons. You can find the ATROs listed on the second page of your summons. This prevents you from doing a lot of things with your property and money until your divorce is finalized.
First, you cannot take any of your minor children outside of the state and you cannot apply for a new or replacement passport for any minor children, unless you have the other party's written permission or a court order.
Basically, the court doesn't want you travelling and attempting to flee the state with your children.
Second. you cannot alter any of your insurance policies held for the benefit of your kids or your spouse. Altering these policies would include cashing them, borrowing against them, canceling, transferring, disposing of, or changing the beneficiaries of the plan. This includes life, health, automobile, and disability insurance. So, while you would think it makes sense that you should remove your soon-to-be ex-spouse as your life insurance beneficiary, you are unable to do so until the divorce is finalized.
Third, you cannot transfer, encumber, hypothecate, conceal, or dispose of any property, real or personal, whether community, quasi-community, or separate, without the written consent of your spouse or a court order. This does not include the usual course of business or the necessities of life. This provision is broad and tricky. Essentially, the court wants to prevent you from hiding and destroying assets. But at the same time, the court is allowing you to use your property (i.e. money) in the usual course of business and for the necessities of life (food, shelter). So, you will want to avoid using any money on expensive purchases until the divorce is finalized, and even though you might want to sell the furniture that reminds you of your ex, you'll have to wait until the divorce is final.
Finally, you cannot create a nonprobate transfer or modify a nonprobate transfer without the written consent of the other party or a court order. You may revoke a nonprobate transfer or eliminate a right of survivorship, but you muse file notice of the change with the court and serve the other party. This section essentially deals with trusts. You cannot create a trust and put any property in it or modify an existing transfer of funds to a trust. Basically, this is another method for the court to prevent you from trying to hide assets and prevent your spouse from having access to property. You can revoke transfers and eliminate rights of surviviorship, but you just have to provide notice.
In conclusion, when you are in the middle of a divorce, it can be difficult to move on until the divorce is finalized, as you are prevented from changing many things before that date. Thus, it could be important for your mental health, well-being, and long-term finances to work hard and get your divorce finalized as quickly as possible, so that you'll know that your property belongs to you, you can do whatever you want with it, and you can finally move on with your life.
Maria E. Crabtree, CFLS