I Am Filing for Divorce and Believe My Spouse is Hiding Funds in a SAFE DEPOSIT BOX. What Can I Do?

Q. I intend to file for divorce shortly, but believe my spouse has placed a significant amount of cash in a safe deposit box. Any recommendations on how I might keep that money from disappearing?

Jaime, Newport Beach, CA

A. California Financial Code section 1620 sets forth a procedure I have used many times to freeze access to a safe deposit box in order to prevent the other party from looting it after a case is filed. I highly recommend employing it in cases where you have a good reason to believe that any assets value are contained in one, because although the ATRO's (automatic temporary restraining orders) in principle prohibit a party from removing or concealing cash (or gold, coin or any other asset) - these apply only after that person has been served with the Summons - and, if the other spouse does remove the contents of a deposit box, you may never be able to prove what these contents consisted of.

By properly serving a "Notice of Adverse Claim" per section 1620 on any banking institution where a safe deposit box is located, you can stop your spouse from accessing that deposit box for up to three court days. You would use that time to file for and obtain ex parte restraining orders from a family court judge that would then direct the bank (or at least the other spouse) to refuse or not have access to the box except upon the specific terms set forth in the order, like "until further order of the court".

Typically your motion would ask that these contents be inventoried in the presence of a third party, and that if there was cash or bullion that those monies be placed out of the reach of both parties pending a subsequent court order awarding or distributing them.

Please note that Financial Code section 1620 replaces former section 1650 effective January 1, 2012.

Here is a form of notice to the bank if you want to freeze their safe deposit box!

Thurman Arnold, Family Court Attorney