Opinion:Johnson v. Snow, 2022 OK 86
Subject matter:Family Law
Date Decided:November 1, 2022
Trial Court:District Court of Grady County; Judge Kirkland
Route to this Court:Appeal of trial court’s declaratory judgment; Retained by OKCT on the Court’s motion
Facts:While divorce proceedings were pending, Wife changed the primary beneficiary of her IRA to her adult children and opened a new transfer-on-death account funded with marital funds and listing her adult children as the transfer-on-death beneficiaries. Both actions were in violation of the automatic temporary injunction (ATI) established by 43 O.S. § 110(A)(1)(a). Wife died before the divorce was granted and the action abated. Husband filed a declaratory judgment action to enforce the ATI and the trial court concluded that the IRA and the funds used to open the TOD account were marital property and, therefore, Wife’s actions violated the ATI and were ineffective. The trial court granted Husband’s motion for summary judgment and ordered that Husband be reinstated as the beneficiary of the IRA and awarded the proceeds of the TOD account. The adult children appealed. 
Standard of Review:Summary judgment is reviewed do novo
Analysis:The threshold issue is not whether Wife violated the ATI, but rather whether the trial court could enforce the ATI after the divorce action abated. When one spouse dies before the divorce is granted, the trial court is deprived of jurisdiction. Because there is no longer a marriage for the court to dissolve, there is no longer a justiciable controversy. Upon Wife’s death and the abatement of the divorce action, the ATI became a nullity and could no longer be enforced. 

We acknowledge that if the Wife violated the AIT, our holding may seem inequitable–as though the Wife’s death wipes away any wrongdoing and there are no consequences. But, as one court so poignantly stated, “while it is regrettable that [deceased spouse] violated the automatic orders and seems to have reached beyond the grane to thwart [surviving spouse’s] efforts to recover his share of her assets, this Court is unable to remedy the violation in this proceeding.” 
Outcome:Reversed; Cause Remanded With Instructions To Grant Summary Judgment to Appellants
Vote:8-1; Concur: Darby, C.J., Kane, V.C.J. (author), Kauger, Winchester, Edmondson, Combs, Gurich, and Kuehn, JJ. Concur in Result: Rowe, J.
Other: The Court noted that other courts addressing this issue are split. Also, the Court noted that if one party dies after the divorce has been granted, the cause of action does not abate, and the court retains jurisdiction to divide marital property.