Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders or ATROs: Positive or Negative
While there are marriages that end on good terms and amicably, this is a rarity in today’s world. The “ideal” divorce is hard to find and in reality, most marriages do not dissolve so easily, and from the moment a spouse is served, their emotions can get the best of them. They may act out- draining community accounts, cancelling joint benefits, or even threatening to withhold or leave with the parties’ children. This is when Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders, or “ATROs” come into play. Unlike a traditional restraining order which protects against other people, ATROs serve to protect the status quo of the marriage.
Specifically, California Family Code § 2040(a), which outlines the contents of ATROs, lists the following that both parties are restrained from exploiting during the dissolution process:
- removing the minor child or children of the parties, if any, from the state without the prior written consent of the other party or an order of the court;
- transferring, encumbering, hypothecating, concealing, or in any way disposing of any property, real or personal, whether community, quasi-community, or separate, without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court, except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life, and requiring each party to notify the other party of any proposed extraordinary expenditures at least give business days before incurring those expenditures and to account to the court for all extraordinary expenditures made after service of the summons on that party;
- cashing, borrowing against, canceling, transferring, disposing of, or changing the beneficiaries of any insurance or other coverage, including life, health, automobile, and disability, held for the benefit of the parties and their child or children for whom support may be ordered;
- creating a nonprobate transfer or modifying a nonprobate transfer in a manner that affects the disposition of property subject to the transfer, without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court. 
As one of the obligations when filing for dissolution of marriage, the Petitioner must file and serve a Summons and a Petition to put the other party on notice that they are being divorced. This Summons, Form FL-100 in California, lists the ATROs or the “Standard Family Law Restraining Orders” in their entirety. The ATROs binds both parties and becomes effective immediately upon the service of the Summons.
ATROs impact to main issues in a divorce proceeding: travel with children and finances. ATROs temporary “freezes” both parties financial assets and forbids travel with children outside of the state of California without the prior written consent of the other party, or a court order.
An interesting case involving the effect of ATROs in the marital dissolution proceedings is of John McTiernan, director of big Hollywood films such as Bruce Willis’s Die Hard and his ex-wife, Donna Dubrow.  During the course of their dissolution proceedings, McTiernan sold certain community property stocks, which he partially used to pay community expenses. However, ATROs forbids the transfer or disposing of any property, “whether community, quasi-community, or separate, without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court, except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life.” The court found that although he did not sell these stocks in ill will or maliciously, it was nevertheless a violation of ATROs because he could have consulted his wife or obtained court approval. Since he did neither, the court awarded Dubrow with restitution damages resulting from the sale of the stocks.
Essentially, ATROs protect both spouses and any disruptions to their “financial status, home life, and relationships with children while in the process of dissolving their marriage.” If either party were worried about either finances or their relationships with their children, these items should be prioritized during the process. The concerned party may want to immediately file for temporary custody orders or even reach out to the other party about accounts and assets. In an already upsetting and tense situation, ATROs helps to safeguard a degree of respect between the divorcing couple and may even relieve some of anxiety and mistrust that so often results in the marriage dissolution process. For these reasons, ATROs are an invaluable tool during divorce proceedings. 
If you are considering filing for divorce at any time of the year and have questions regarding ATROs, the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri have decades of experience handling complex family law matters. Please contact the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri for further information. Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.
 Cal. Fam. Code § 2040(a) (West).
 In re the Marriage of John McTiernan and Donna Dubrow (2005) 133 Cal. App. 4th 1090.
 Dana Warstler, A History of the Automatics TROS in Family Code 2040(A), 11 J. Contemp. Legal Issues 191, 191 (2000).