Who gets the family vehicle during a divorce will depend on where you live and your state’s laws pertaining to property distribution during a divorce.
Each state has developed their own property distribution laws for divorce situations. The decision will likely not be based on whose name is on the title if the car was bought during the marriage with normal income.
Who Gets The Family Vehicle Under Equitable and Community Property:
Most states follow the equitable distribution property laws. In these states, the property is divided based on a variety of factors such as the income of both parties, the earning potential of both parties, who purchased the property, and the length of the marriage. The outcome of property ownership will be determined in a “fair and equitable” manner, which may not be 50-50.
Community property laws are observed in the following states:
- Alaska (by agreement)
- New Mexico
In these states, spouses each own 50 percent of all property acquired during a marriage regardless of income and other factors. Both parties are also liable for 50 percent of all debts incurred during the marriage.
In a community property state, whoever receives the vehicles will have to buy-out the other partner of their 50 percent ownership.
In an equitable property state, the judge can decide which party has more right to the vehicle. If multiple vehicles are in question, typically they will be divided between the parties in a way deemed “fair and equitable.”
General exceptions to both types of laws are a property that is acquired through inheritance and a property that was purchased before the marriage. In those cases, the vehicle will remain with the original owner.
Who Gets the Family Vehicle Will Depend on How the Vehicles Are Used:
Typically, the party who used the vehicle most before the divorce will be awarded the vehicle. For example, if one spouse uses the vehicle for transporting the children the majority of the time, they will most likely be awarded the vehicle.
However, the party who receives the vehicle may lose other assets to make up for the value of the vehicle.
If a couple owned two vehicles of similar value, likely, they will each receive one of the vehicles in their settlement.
Here are a couple warnings:
- Until the divorce is final, one party cannot deny access to a vehicle by the other party
- If there is a loan, the person who is awarded the vehicle must refinance it under his/her name only
Many states issue automatic temporary restraining orders (ATROs) when a couple files for divorce. These orders forbid one spouse from taking full ownership of any property until a judge signs distribution orders.
Those beginning the divorce process must not assume they can take a car away from their spouse because they believe it should be their own. Both parties should make sure insurance is current on the vehicle, and they may need to take out separate policies.
Sometimes refinancing a loan to one party will cause problems if that party doesn’t have a good credit score or the lender refuses to remove the former spouse’s name. The spouse who did not receive the vehicle will need to ensure they are not liable for a loan the other party defaults on.
When a Judge Decides Who Gets the Family Vehicle:
A couple can decide how they believe their assets, including vehicles, should be split and if they both agree, a judge will render the final decision. If the judge believes the property allocation is equitable or equal (depending on the state), he can order the agreement as legally binding.
Most couples will hire attorneys to help separate assets. Skilled attorneys can make sure both parties are protected and not taken advantage of. The lawyers can help determine which party/parties should receive the vehicle/vehicles. Once again, the judge will make the final ruling.
If the divorcing couple can’t work together to develop a plan and decide not to use an attorney, a judge will make the sole decision of who will get the vehicle.
The answer to who gets the car in a divorce depends on each individual situation but here are the overall considerations, in a nutshell, you should be aware of:
- Whether the state follows equitable or community property laws will play a part in the decision.
- Often, the vehicle will be awarded to the one who needs it to transport children, but by receiving the vehicle, that party will likely lose something else in the divorce.
- The judge makes the ultimate decision, but will likely follow the agreement made in advance by the couple and/or their attorneys.
Using attorneys will help make for a smoother process as they are familiar with the laws and will work to protect their clients.