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FAMILY LAW ARTICLES

April 21, 2021
Saving Money in a Family Law Proceeding

Family law proceedings are often financially taxing for families and individuals. In the following article, we’ll be discussing an important way you can be saving money in a family law proceeding

Information Is Power: The Importance of a Summons

Before we get to the actual money-saving piece of advice we have for you, we must discuss the importance of your summons.

In any family law action, you receive a summons whenever you obtain a petition. As a matter of mandatory language, your summons will have several common family law restraining orders within it. The moment the petitioner (opposing party) signs the petition, they become bound by the contents of the summons. The moment you (the defendant) acquire the summons, you become bound by the contents of it.

Keeping this in mind, you need to know what these restraining orders are, so thoroughly reading your summons is critical.

A Note on “Restraining Orders” and “ATROS”

Here, we should note that when we say “restraining orders,” they aren’t in the sense that you likely know this term.

That is, these restraining orders aren’t prohibitions to stay away. They aren’t domestic violence restraining orders or civil harassment restraining orders. They’re not controlling personal conduct and communication between the parties either.

Instead, they control actions such as whether or not you can take the children out of the state in a custody case. In a dissolution or divorce proceeding, the orders will be more in-depth. And in either case, from there, the rest will generally be related to financial matters.

We won’t go through all the different standard family law restraining orders, but know that you will hear attorneys refer to these as ATROS: automatic temporary restraining orders. This is because they go into effect automatically.

Remember this preferred acronym (ATROS) because you’ll hear it often.

Reading and Following Your Summons

At this point, you now know that you have the summons to read, and it’s imperative to read it thoroughly.

Now, you may be asking: “How is reading my summons thoroughly going to  help in saving money in family law?”

Again, remember that what we’re discussing here is more about avoiding unnecessary costs. And how might not reading your summons closely result in high costs?

Here’s the answer: Violation of any ATROS in your summons is punishable by the imposition of monetary sanctions.

In other words, if you violate any of the ATROS in your summons (and many people unwittingly do so), you will be charged fees. You will also have to pay for any necessary costs to correct the said violation(s). And finally, you will have to pay for your own attorney’s fees because you’ll need your attorney to defend you and remedy the expenses that you’ve incurred in most cases.

Here’s a typical example and a worst-case scenario:

Let’s say you receive a petition from the opposing party, and you are the party that is carrying health insurance for both of you. The ATROS contain specific prohibitions that you cannot alter insurance policies. This includes any insurance policies in existence as of the day you obtained the summons (or the day you file the petition).

In this situation, some people may decide — because they’re angry — to terminate the opposing party’s health insurance. Perhaps the insurance is with your employer, so you have the option of doing that.

If you do this, you will violate the standard family law restraining orders contained in the summons. This violation will take effect the moment you change that insurance policy.

So, let’s talk about the consequences of this action

Let’s say that the opposing party falls and breaks their hip or is out playing soccer and breaks their leg. It suddenly becomes apparent that that person is not insured. In this case, you would not only be guilty of acts of contempt for violation of these orders, but you would also now be on the hook for paying the opposing party’s medical costs. You must pay these costs from your separate property or your share of the community estate. This is because the opposing party would have been insured — except for your wrong actions.

This is a severe sanction, to put it lightly. In addition, as a result of violating one of these orders, you’re likely going to have to pay your attorney to try to minimize the excess costs. In other words, your attorney will be necessary to help make it so the opposing party can’t just run up medical fees.

You might even end up paying the opposing counsel because of your wrong actions. After all, the opposing party would not have had to incur their lawyer fees (to go after uninsured health care costs) had you abided by the automatic temporary restraining orders contained in the summons.

Don’t Make the Mistake of Simply Filing Away Your Summons

We cannot emphasize enough how much you should be reading your summons if you have not read it already. Please find it and go over them immediately.

If you cannot find the one that you were served with, be sure to contact your attorney and ask them about the ATROS.

Here’s another important tip: If you find that you violated the ATROS somehow, fix it yourself before the other side finds out or has to complain about it. This will allow you to minimize your exposure and not be subject to a contempt action.

Now, if you don’t have an attorney and can’t find one, or if you can’t find your summons, go to self-help at your local courtroom. The staff there will tell you what standard familial restraining orders are in your type of summons. They can give you a copy as well.

How Hiring an Experienced Attorney Can Help

At Hartley Lamas Et. Al., we have a specific memorandum that we send out to clients who receive a summons. This memorandum goes through every single one of the ATROS and discusses each one in detail. This allows our clients to understand why they should not violate any ATRO. It also relays the importance of our client letting us know as soon as possible if the other side has broken any ATRO.

Unfortunately, it’s not rare for our practice to start working with a client after they’ve had a prior attorney who did not inform them of the existence of the ATROS. We often find out that the client has, in some way, be in violation.

We, of course, will try to amend this as quickly and quietly as we can (unless, of course, the client was caught in the bad act beforehand). But it’s always best to avoid violations in the first place. 

Contact Hartley Lamas Et Al., Attorneys at Law

Our team at Hartley Lamas Et. Al. is faithful to provide comprehensive counsel to clients with family law needs. We want to help you in saving money in family law. If you are going through an adoption, child custody, divorce, or similar family law case, book a consultation with us today to discuss your legal options.

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