In recent years there have been some additions to the form of the divorce Summons that are designed to apprize the parties of certain important legal obligations. After the addendum, the Summons contains a recital of the Automatic Orders. These are standing restraining orders of the Court that restrict the transfer or other disposition of assets, and are binding upon the plaintiff at the moment the Summons is filed in the Clerk’s office, and upon the defendant once he or she is served.
The Automatic Orders should be read carefully by any person who is contemplating divorce, and certainly no later than the commencement of the divorce action. They are as follows:
- ORDERED: Neither party shall transfer, encumber, assign, remove, withdraw or in any way dispose of, without the consent of the other party in writing, or by order of the court, any property (including, but not limited to, real estate, personal property, cash accounts, stocks, mutual funds, bank accounts, cars and boats) individually or jointly held by the parties, except in the usual course of business, for customary and usual household expenses or for reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with this action.
- ORDERED: Neither party shall transfer, encumber, assign, remove, withdraw or in any way dispose of any tax deferred funds, stocks or other assets held in any individual retirement accounts, 401K accounts, profit sharing plans, Keogh accounts, or any other pension or retirement account, and the parties shall further refrain from applying for or requesting the payment of retirement benefits or annuity payments of any kind, without the consent of the other party in writing, or upon further order of the court ; except that any party who is already in pay status may continue to receive such payments thereunder.
- ORDERED: Neither party shall incur unreasonable debts hereafter, including, but not limited to further borrowing against any credit line secured by the family residence, further encumbering any assets, or unreasonably using credit cards or cash advances against credit cards, except in the usual course of business or for customary or usual household expenses, or for reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with this action.
- ORDERED: Neither party shall cause the other party or the children of the marriage to be removed from any existing medical, hospital and dental insurance coverage, and each, and each party shall maintain the existing medical, hospital and dental insurance coverage in full force and effect.
- ORDERED: Neither party shall change the beneficiaries of any existing life insurance policies and each party shall maintain the existing life insurance, automobile insurance, homeowners and renters insurance policies in full force and effect.
Failure to follow the Automatic Orders can result in a party being found in contempt of court, which can result in fine and/or imprisonment. As such, it is important to consult with a divorce attorney about property issues before the divorce action is started. It would be a mistake to sell a car or buy a boat after an action is started, unless written consent (signed and notarized) is obtained from the other spouse. Failing that, an application to the Court must be made for permission to do anything prohibited by the Automatic Orders.
Other additions to the Summons with Notice include notice that the dissolution of marriage will result in the loss of medical insurance coverage for the non-employee spouse, as well as an explanation of the maintenance guidelines that may be employed to determine the presumptively correct amount of maintenance to be awarded in the final judgment.