Temporary Orders to Maintain Status Quo - What Can Happen When You Ignore Them

Case Discussed:

Ruthko v. Morris

MiLW No. 08-91998

Michigan Court of Appeals - Unpublished Case

Parties engaging in a long-lasting divorce proceeding are ordered to maintain the status quo of their finances in keeping with past family practice. One aspect of their past financial practices was the maintenance of insurance policies and specific riders insuring valuable goods owned by the parties. The ex-husband, Mr. Morris, took steps to cancel the riders insuring his former wife's jewelry, which was later stolen.

What to take away from this case?

Mr. Morris was found to have violated the standing order of the Court to maintain the status quo of the parties' mutual financial affairs. Specifically, Mr. Morris' purposeful action to cancel the insurance riders protecting the value of his former wife's jewelry was found to be in violation of the Court's order. After appeals as to the amount owed by Mr. Morris, he was forced to pay his former wife over $35,000, representing the difference between what she may have received if the insurance riders were in place, versus what she received sans insurance riders.

Many people who may read of such a case may roll their eyes - insurance policies on jewelry worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. What a problem to have!

Still, it is important that divorce litigants understand two key principles:

1) The Court will enforce its temporary orders. Mr. Morris was under order not to change the status quo. He was informed of that duty, and when his lapse resulted in damages to his former wife, the Court was obligated to find against him.

2) Obeisance to the Court's orders is not merely for the rich and affluent: any party to a divorce case could find themselves the subject of temporary and ongoing orders of the Court.

Examples: maintaining expensive health or dental insurance policies, life insurance policies, joint cell phone accounts, car insurance policies covering both litigants' cars. There are dozens of examples where the intermingling of two lives can be governed by temporary relief orders.

Closing Thoughts

Temporary relief orders often make litigants feel as though they are suffering from undue or unsustainable burdens. While this is often the case subjectively, the Court may feel otherwise. It is imperative that parties communicate with their attorneys and between each other to minimize the negative financial and other impacts that a divorce proceeding can bring.

Full opinion available here, courtesy of michbar.org

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