Many people associate restraining orders with domestic violence or other similar forms of abuse, but they can also be a useful tool for divorcing couples. Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders, or ATROs, can help a divorce go more smoothly by establishing certain financial rules and ensuring that the divorce process proceeds fairly for both parties. Maryland law allows an individual to include an ATRO with a divorcing or legal separation filing, which is particularly useful if that person’s spouse controls most of the couple’s marital assets.

In Maryland, an ATRO prevents either spouse from making significant changes to a couple’s “financial status quo” after a divorce has been filed. For instance, ATROs typically bar either party changing bank accounts, changing insurance policies or bank accounts to remove or include beneficiaries, selling or borrowing against marital property or destroying assets.

According to one family law expert, freezing a couple’s assets in such a way serves to “level the playing field” and prevents either spouse from abusing their control of the couple’s finances. She added that ATRO can also reduce legal costs, as they prevent excessive transferring and modifying of assets that can leave lawyers and accountants confused.

Because ATROs are court-mandated legal orders, the penalties for violation can be severe. However, not all forms of asset dissipation are expressly forbidden. For instance, either party is still allowed to spend money in the “usual course of business,” though these expenditures are still subject to examination by Maryland courts. But because many types of spending are subject to discretion, individuals going through a divorce in Maryland should consult with an attorney to determine whether a specific use might be considered to violate an ATRO.

Source: Forbes, “Divorcing Women, Here’s What You Need to Know About ATROs,” Jeff Landers, July 11, 2012