When a couple cannot agree on the terms of the divorce, the court is tasked with dividing most property acquired by the couple from the date they are married until the date they separate. This property is generally known as marital property, and although each state has its own rules, the assets are typically divided evenly or on the basis of fairness. In either case, having a correct snapshot of the marital property is important toward this end, and the transfer of any of this property before the divorce is finalized can make it difficult for the court to effectively do its job.
Financial Restraining Orders
In order to preserve the status quo and to prevent a spouse from wasting or attempting to conceal marital assets, many states allow parties to request a financial restraining order. Some states require that the court put these orders into effect automatically when a divorce is filed. Financial restraining orders restrict either spouse from making any major purchases with marital property, beyond necessary living expenses, without first petitioning the court for permission. The other spouse has an opportunity to object to the purchase, and a judge will make a ruling either allowing or denying it.
Although the purchase of reasonable food, clothing and grooming supplies would most likely be considered necessary living expenses, there is often no bright-line rule for when permission from the court is required. For instance, whether purchasing a vehicle is necessary might depend on your individual transportation options, and the price of the car, relative to the amount of marital property available. For that reason, many spouses choose to err on the side of petitioning the court before making any substantial purchases.
Effect on Share
If you make non-necessary purchases during the divorce, the likely outcome is that your share of the marital property will be reduced by the amount you wrongly spent. Further, if your purchase was a violation of an existing restraining order, you may also be subject to contempt charges, which can lead to punishment such as fines and the payment of your spouse's court costs and attorney's fees.