A restraining order (sometimes called a “protective order”) is a type of court order that tells people to do or not do certain things. Most restraining orders are issued to protect one of the parties (or both parties if it is a mutual restraining order) from harming or coming near the other party. For example, the order might tell the defendant not to come within 1000 feet of the plaintiff or not to go to the plaintiff’s job site.
Restraining orders are common in cases of:
Restraining orders typically protect a person from physical harm. However, some restraining orders involve protection from other harm, such as emotional or economic harm. Such an order might tell a property owner to stop activities that constitute a public nuisance (e.g., stop putting garbage bags on the public sidewalk) or direct parties in a civil lawsuit to stop contacting each other.
Restraining orders can vary in length. Some can last only for several days, while others might be enforceable for several years. Some will expire when litigation ends, such as when the judge signs the divorce decree.
If a person violates a restraining order, consequences will follow. This could be the imposition of a fine or jail time if the conduct is particularly egregious or if there have been multiple violations of the order.
What is an “Automatic Restraining Order”?
An automatic restraining order is a very specific kind of restraining order. It is generally issued in connection with divorce proceedings. Unlike most other restraining orders, automatic restraining orders don’t involve protecting the parties from threats or risks of physical violence or abuse. Instead, an automatic restraining order has to do with protecting each party’s bank accounts and monetary or financial assets.
An automatic restraining order is issued to ensure that during their divorce proceedings, neither party depletes assets. This is to prevent one of the main problems in many divorce settings, where one spouse is hiding assets from the other party to avoid having to split the property with them. An automatic restraining order typically prevents the party from:
- Hiding financial assets or money from the other spouse or from the court
- Moving money from account to account to avoid truthfully reporting the amount of money the party owns
- Transferring money or property to other persons for the purpose of keeping it out of their spouse’s hands
- Any other action intended to conceal the existence of assets in connection with the divorce or legal separation (such as shifting expenses to a business owned by the spouse)
An automatic restraining order prohibits the parties to a divorce action 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 investment, or
- Paying for court and/or attorneys’ fees and costs
In short, the order allows each party to pay household bills, shop for groceries, and pay the costs of prosecuting the divorce but prohibits (absent agreement by the parties or separate court order) larger transactions such as buying or selling a car or real estate. It also prohibits the parties from incurring further debts while the divorce proceedings are pending, including borrowing against a homeowner’s credit line or running up credit card debt.
An automatic restraining order also prohibits both parties from changing the beneficiaries of any life insurance policy or retirement asset unless there is written consent from the other party or a court order. It also prohibits either party from directly or indirectly causing the other party or the children to be removed from coverage under an existing medical, dental, life, automobile, or disability insurance policy.
An automatic restraining order automatically expires when a divorce decree or support agreement is entered into the court record.
How Is an Automatic Restraining Order Issued?
To obtain a standard restraining order to prevent physical harm by prohibiting contact between the parties, the anxious party must apply to the court for an order. However, in jurisdictions where automatic restraining orders are issued when a party files a divorce petition, the court clerk will automatically give them the restraining order, which will apply to them.
When the other party is served with the divorce court papers, they must also receive the automatic restraining order. Once the restraining order is served, it will also apply to the other party.
Are There Legal Consequences for Violating an Automatic Restraining Order?
Although it may not appear so since they are simply handed out whenever a divorce petition is filed, in reality, automatic restraining orders are considered to be formally issued by a judge in a court of law. Because of this, they are enforceable under state and local laws. Violating a restraining order can lead to serious consequences. When they learn of a violation, the police are directed by statute to arrest the defendant.
If the violation is flagrant or repeated, the prosecution will charge them with a crime, and the judge who granted the order can issue a contempt order. This may result in being sent to jail for several days as punishment for violating a court order. In addition, fines and criminal citations can be charged to the defendant.
In addition, violating an automatic restraining order can affect that party’s rights in other areas of their lives. Examples of this include their rights to child custody or their rights to visitation hours.
Even a single violation of a court order can lead to serious consequences. If there are questions or anything is unclear about the restraining order, it is better to check with the court before taking any steps that might violate it.
What if Physical Protection is Needed?
Automatic restraining orders don’t provide physical protection from domestic violence or other types of abuse. If such protection is needed, the party must request that the court issue a standard restraining order. This could be an emergency protective order or a temporary restraining order.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with an Automatic Restraining Order?
Because automatic restraining orders are broadly written to cover the widest range of possible financial actions, it can be difficult to know if the order prohibits a specific deed. It is a good idea to check with an experienced restraining order lawyer in your area for help. The attorney will know your court’s rules about automatic restraining orders and what they apply to. Moreover, the attorney can help you correctly serve your spouse with their copy of the order so that it will apply to them, too.
An attorney can also craft the remaining divorce papers, such as a petition or an answer, and will know what needs to be filed along with the main documents. A lawyer can negotiate with your spouse or their attorney for the best possible outcome for you in terms of such issues as child custody, alimony, property division, and much more.