Most people behave honestly during a divorce, but some do not. Those who don't may try to hide marital assets, clear out joint bank accounts, give away property, or take other actions to reduce the value of the couple's estate.
If you think your spouse might employ such tactics, you can ask the divorce court to freeze your assets.
Automatic Restraining Orders
In some states, the court issues an automatic restraining order to freeze any marital assets as soon as the motion for divorce is filed. According to attorney Aaron Thomas, these orders prohibit spouses from taking financial actions beyond what they would, ordinarily, in the "normal course of business." This automatic order also serves to prevent spouses from spending bank account funds for anything other than necessities.
Other Prohibited Actions
Another typical provision in an automatic restraining order is an order which prohibits the removal of a spouse's name from a bank account, an insurance policy, a credit card, or the title to real or personal property. Automatic restraining orders also typically prohibit spouses from changing beneficiaries on life insurance policies, destroying marital assets, or buying, selling, or borrowing against marital property, beyond the normal course of business. The intention of the automatic order is to prevent either spouse from changing the financial status quo of the marriage once the divorce proceeding begins.
Requesting an Automatic Order
The term "automatic" suggests that the order slips into place without any effort on your part; in some states, this is precisely the case. In California, for instance, these orders are included as part of the divorce summons. However, the court does not notify banks, insurance companies, or credit card companies about the order; this, you will have to do for yourself. You'll also have to monitor your accounts and assets to be sure that your spouse is living up to the order.
Temporary Restraining Order
In states such as New Jersey and South Carolina, you must request that the court issue a restraining order to freeze your bank accounts, pending divorce. Unless you file an emergency motion, the court will only hear the issue on notice with an opportunity for both sides to be heard. To win the motion for a restraining order, you must convince the court—with specific evidence—that it is necessary to protect your marital assets. Some states require that you put your statement in the form of an affidavit, signed under oath.