Last Updated on August 11, 2023 @ 8:30 am
Want to know who gets to keep the car when you divorce? Household budgets are tight with all that is going on in the world, forcing many families to make difficult financial decisions. Some families have become single-car households (for reasons other than being able to Zoom into your office), carpooling or using public transportation to get around. If the marriage ends in divorce, the divorcing couple must decide who keeps the car (and other property). Property division in divorce is one of the most highly contested issues in a divorce. Each state has their own rules on how property is divided and whether the car that both spouses want is marital property. Speak to one of our family law attorneys for a free attorney consultation and find out what property is yours!
Property Division In Divorce
Since it is determined at a state level, property division in divorce can be a tricky thing. If the divorcing couple is in agreement about how property will be divided, they are permitted to make these decisions on their own without having a judge weigh in on the subject. However, retaining a divorce attorney is the best way to ensure that property is divided according to the law because in some instances, even property purchased during the marriage might be non-marital if the funds used to make that purchase were acquired prior to the marriage. An important note: if you purchase a car during the marriage and the title/loan is only in your name (as opposed to being in both spouses names), this does NOT mean that it is your property alone – it still follows your state’s division of property rules and laws. This is where it starts to get really tricky.
Equitable Division vs. Community Property
Most states follow common law guidelines regarding property, commonly referred to as “equitable division.” Equitable division does NOT mean ‘equal’ division. In the context of divorce laws, equitable division means a ‘fair’ division of property acquired during the marriage (known as marital property). Judges in equitable division states make the decision of what he or she thinks is ‘fair’ or ‘equitable’ based on a range of factors involved in the overall context of the divorce case. Other states follow what is known as community property laws. Community property is property (or money) acquired during a marriage but community property is divided evenly (50% to each spouse) during a divorce.
In both equitable division states and community property states, these rules do not apply to the following: property that was an inheritance, property that was a gift, and property that was obtained before the marriage. Community property laws view spouses as equal contributors to the marriage so the court strives to distribute property evenly (50/50). In equitable division of property states, the courts view the property acquired during the marriage as marital property but that property should be divided in a way the judge determines is fair (this means taking into account each persons earning capacity, differences in income, and non-marital / pre-marital property that he or she will keep to themselves post-divorce).
Though some people think that this process sounds simple at first, it is extremely complicated, especially when both spouses want to keep the family vehicle. One important thing to keep in mind is this: every dollar either spouse earns during the marriage is subject to division either equally (as in a community property state), or equitably (fairly, as in an equitable division state). So who wins the car at a hearing or divorce trial? It depends on a number of factors.
Examples of Equitable Division and Community Property
- Here are some examples, depending on whether in a community property state or an equitable division of property state:
- Example 1: One spouse might emphasize that the vehicle is needed for commuting purposes to and from work because public transportation is not available and walking is not feasible, while the other spouse works from home, has alternative transportation, or has the capability to use videoconferencing for work like Zoom, etc.
- Example 2: A stay-at-home parent could stress that she or he needs the car to drive children to and from school, transport them to activities and medical appointments, and have transportation for possible child-related emergencies.
- In an equitable division of property state, the spouse most likely to be awarded the car (#1 & #2 above) is the one who needs it for work and the stay-at-home parent, since the car is necessary to remain employed and necessary to take care of the children (which is ALWAYS top priority when judge’s make decisions).
- In a community property state, that same spouse in each example above (#1 & #2) still may be awarded the car, but it would be likely that some type of payment or other property of equal value would be exchanged to make the division of property overall in the divorce equal (or close to 50/50).
- Example 3: A spouse made a substantial down payment on the vehicle with pre-marital funds (money that was in his or her account BEFORE the marriage, or with funds that were received DURING the marriage by inheritance or gift), and he or she made most of the loan or lease payments on the car.
- Example 4: One of the spouses owned the vehicle prior to the marriage and it was paid off.
Deciding Who Gets the Car is Complicated
Fights over the family vehicle can turn ugly, sometimes situations like one spouse taking it and not returning it. Sometimes it isn’t easy to know who should keep the car during a divorce, and sometimes the car should be given to one person who then has to pay the other person for their portion of what its worth. The law is complex, confusing, and not nearly as straightforward as it should be. Speaking with one of our attorneys for the free family law help that you deserve is as easy as picking up the phone and giving our team a call.