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The Connecticut Supreme Court has recently ruled that selling stocks is a violation of the automatic orders in a divorce, in the case of O’Brien v. O’Brien.

In any divorce, automatic orders are put in place for both parties. They govern your actions throughout your case, including how you handle your finances, in order to prevent the parties from depleting marital assets prior to dissolution.

In the recent case of O’Brien v. O’Brien, Defendant Wife, Kathleen O’Brien, alleged that Plaintiff Husband, Michael O’Brien, violated automatic orders by cashing in stock options before his divorce was finalized, and without notification to his wife or the court.

Kathleen O’Brien filed a Motion for Contempt with the court, saying that Michael had violated the automatic orders by cashing in his stock for $2.5 million without her permission. She claimed that had he not cashed in the stock, it would have continued to accrue value up to $6 million.

The trial court ruled in favor of Kathleen, and penalized Michael O’Brien financially, but did not find him in contempt of court. Michael O’Brien appealed this decision. The Appellate court ruled in favor of Michael, stating that the trial court could not penalize someone if they are not found in contempt of court.

Kathleen O’Brien took the case to the Connecticut Supreme Court, who ruled that Michael O’Brien did in fact violate the automatic orders, and should bear the losses.

The automatic orders do state that you may use your assets in “the ordinary course of business.” This generally means to pay your bills, including attorney fees, and other regular expenses. Michael O’Brien argued that cashing in his stock options to reduce risk to his portfolio was an ordinary course of business, which it may be for someone who regularly invests.

The Supreme Court ruled that cashing in stock options is not an “ordinary course of business” and a party would need to get consent from their spouse, and permission from the court. Some may argue that this will cause a burden on the courts, with the parties having to go to court each time they wish to liquefy or change an asset.  There is currently a motion for reconsideration pending that has not yet been ruled upon.

Wolf & Shore, LLC regularly handles high-asset divorces, where issues similar to this are likely to arise, and encourages every client to be cautious when making financial decisions. Checking in with your attorney regularly is very helpful, as they will be able to advise you as to whether your actions are in accordance with your automatic orders.

If you have a high asset divorce, seeking representation may be the best course of action. Please contact us here, at 203.745.3151, or at and set up a confidential consultation.


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