Last Updated on August 11, 2023 @ 8:30 am

Who Keeps the Car When We Divorce?

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.

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34 thoughts on “Who Keeps the Car When We Divorce?”

  1. Me and my husband I guess he filed for divorce we have been married 22 yrs and he left me for another woman he has a truck he bought while married and just turned around and bought another truck my car blew up can I take one from him

    1. All property acquired during a marriage is marital property. So technically, both vehicles are marital, which means each of you owns them both equally.
      that doesn’t necessarily mean that you automatically get one of the vehicles, and the next question is whether they are paid for or have loans/under the terms of a lease.
      Are you employed and able to make payments on a vehicle or get yours repaired?
      During the divorce, all assets and debts will be divided depending on what state you are in – either via Community Property laws or via an Equitable Distribution of property rules.
      If both vehicles are owned outright with no loan, it could be possible that a judge, after a hearing, awards you a vehicle so that you can get to and from work, etc.
      but this will require a hearing and most likely, a lawyer to get that type of relief. And it won’t happen in a week or two – it will likely take well over a month if not a few months.
      Contact our team and we can help more.

  2. I’ve been separated for 4 years, I filed last year for child support/custody. I have been making payments to the finance company that my ex (never married) signed. I’ve stopped making payments due to not supporting our children and not assisting me with financial support… however, he decided to file for bankruptcy last year as well. He had 4 jobs and didn’t allow me or give me the opportunity to work to support our 2 children as well who needs therapy for speech, OT, PT, and ABA (they have autism) and require a lot of help mostly my little one. I still have the car sitting in my garage and he refuses to pick it up the vehicle. In between time I’ve contacted the attorney who he filed bk and they asked me to contact the finance company which I did as well and they referenced me back to the BK attorney; it appears that no one wants the vehicle that has been sitting there for nearly a year. I would like to know how am I able to claim that vehicle?

  3. Beverley Sherman

    Ia, in a De Facto relationship, i have two children from a previous relationship. We purchased a second hand car last December 2020, if we split up who gets the car.

    1. I don’t understand why couples don’t agree to pay off to the other partner half the price, so that they can move on easily with their lives and potential new partners. I think they don’t do it because either one or both can’t let go each other completely. Divorced people suck

  4. I’m currently going through a divorce now which is my first time. It is uncontested. We both have verbally agreed which vechiles would be mine with the understanding that I would have to put them in my name. Now I’m the one doing everything online. But both the titles are up for collateral at his bank. Now once I actually file within my county how is it that I get the titles to both the vechiles.

  5. My parents co-signed for my truck my mom being the buyer my dad the co singer and there going threw a divorce can they take it away from me

  6. I want to know if I take the car my husband bought for me in our marriage that is still being paid for, can he legally ask the bank to repossess it before a divorce is filed just so I can’t have it?

    1. What I looked up that car is still suppose to be yours if you have some type of proof he got you that as a gift I’m going through the same thing I was told I have to take him to civil court to get it back

      1. If the divorce is still ongoing, the court will sort out who gets what property and who gets what debts. If the car is still in her possession (even if the loan is in her husband’s name), she will likely remain responsible for payments during the divorce and it would be completely normal for a provision to be inserted into the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage / Marital Settlement Agreement that states something like this: VEHICLES: Wife shall keep, as her sole and separate property, her vehicle (insert type of vehicle), that is titled in both parties names / that is titled in Husbands name. Wife shall remain responsible for all payments and shall indemnify and hold Husband harmless from any liability thereto. Wife shall begin the process of removing Husband’s name from the vehicle within 24-months of entry of this Agreement whether it be by paying off the balance, refinance, or other means.

  7. We are going through a divorce now and my husband took both of the vehicles One was purchased just before we got married and I put the $3200 down on it and the other was purchased in June 2019 and we were married when that one was bought as I said he took both of them and now he is trying to sell to the new 2019 can he do that while it’s still considered marital property

  8. I am married and my husband finansed a vehicle with his credit for me and i put down the down payment and i will be making the payments every month and pay for insurance on it. If we go through a divorce or seperate can he take the vehicle away from me? I have three children to take places .

  9. I’m in Texas. Both of the cars for my wife and I are completely in my name only, because she literally does not have credit for a loan. She receives child-support from my step daughters biological father and also is on SSI because of a motorcycle accident when she was younger. We recently separated and are in the divorce process. This month she finally let the SSI lapse because she did not make her renewal hearing. She had been the truck payment each month since 2016 along with half the insurance bill. This will reflect
    On my credit for sure. She has
    Both sets of keys but I plan on going to the dealership to have another key made. I have OnStar and can track my truck and over the past 7-8 months I have found it at her ex-boyfriend”s house but she says they are now friends only and she feels safe there, while my step daughter is being watched by her parents and sister. Anyway, can I legally just go get my truck?
    She is 3 hours away so there is a buffer. She does not know my current address. She pays zero other bills and never had except for the lease payment and half insurance. Would I need police escort or alert them just in case if it’s deemed I can pick it up? Thanks.

  10. Hi my husband told me he’ll pay me $3000 for the car we bought about 2 years ago. We both put same amount of down payment and with our tax refund we pay some of the loan off leaving only 1 year left to pay it off (he made the payments) He was in jail for a month and left me with 3 payments remaining in the car so I paid it off and I received the title but on my friend’s name because her name was in the loan and me as co-signer and she was the one insuring my car. Me and my husband are in the process of getting a divorce. who will the judge grant the car too? We have children (toddlers) and I’m the physical custodian. Can I sell the car ? Because it’s starting to have mechanical problems and I don’t have the money to fix it.

  11. Preches Mcghee

    I am going through a divorce my mother n law co signed with me for a vehicle. I got her name off when I re-finances and the car is only in my name. My husband feels entitled because he drove the car but I have no vehicle and since the divorce I will take over payments and I paid for registration. I live in California what are my rights. We still have 15,000 left in payments and don’t trust he will make payments on time. Since it is not in his name. What can I do?

  12. My son and his wife are going through a divorce. Right before they separated I gave my son a car. Neither of them gave me any money. The title is in my name OR my son’s name. His wife took the car when they separated. Can I get my car back? We live in Utah.

  13. I’m going through a divorce we agree on dividing debts 50/50 and had originally decided I keep the truck which is paid off and he keeps the Audi which we still pay on. Now he wants me to buy him out of the Audi since he is upside down in it. Is that correct? Do I have to buy him out of the Audi and he buy me out of the truck?

  14. So I have a vehicle in my name only and one in my name and my spouses. In a divorce can that car rightfully be given to her to be trusted to make the payments. Or will the car need to be put in her name only. She has a addiction problem and I don’t trust her to make the remaining payments. Help. What do I do.

    1. Vehicles are one of the most common property issues during a divorce, and there are certainly some complications regarding them like the one you mention.

      When the divorce is finalized, a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage will be entered by the court that lays out the separation of property, debts, and obligations of each party. One of these would deal with the vehicles.

      The vehicle that is in both of your names should be handled one of the following was:

      1. Sold and the proceeds/amount owed as her responsibility;
      2. The outstanding loan refinanced and taken out of your name; or
      3. She is awarded the car and also given the sole responsibility to make all payments and indemnify you and hold you harmless from any liability related to the outstanding loan and the vehicle.

      Now, for #3, there is (obviously) some issues related to this if she doesn’t make payments, etc. If she didn’t make payment and it was repossessed, it would be possible for the bank to go after you as well. But this is where the indemnification clause kicks in – even though the divorce judgment doesn’t stop 3rd parties (the car loan) from going after you, she could be taken back to the divorce court and held in contempt of court unless she took care of whatever needed to be done to ensure that you were not held liable (either by forcing her to make payment, or refinance, or something else).

      Those are your best options and what is typical in this type of situation. We can provide more details if you’d like to speak with one our expert divorce attorneys.

  15. I divorced my ex-wife in 1996 in Wyoming. My vehicle was purchased and titled in Maryland. I was awarded my vehicle in the divorce but my ex-wife is shared on the vehicle title. I do not know where she is located and she would probably not sign the title any way.

    How can I get her removed from the title so I can get rid of the vehicle?

    1. If you are unable to get in touch with her, you may be able to simply contact the secretary of state where title rests and bring them a copy of the judgment and ask that a new or amended title be produced. I’m sure they will charge you for that.

      But, you should expect that a copy of your divorce judgment is probably not good enough all by itself. You will want what is called a “certified copy” of your divorce judgment. You would need to contact the court where you were divorced, have the case number, date of divorce, etc., available and ask them how you can obtain a certified copy of the judgment for dissolution. There is typically a fee for this, and since it is relatively old, the files are probably kept in an off-site storage facility if they have not been scanned into a computer database yet. This means it might take a few days for them to order and receive the file and then certify it, copy it, and mail it out to you. Hopefully this works.

      Otherwise, the normal way that things are handled when someone does not fulfill their obligations under a court order (and a judgment for dissolution is a court order), is to file a petition fro rule to show cause, also called a motion for contempt. This asks the court to enforce the order and make the person do something (like sign title) and if they don’t they can be held in contempt, held in default, and a court order can state that the secretary of state shall issue corrected title to you.
      This process is obviously not cheap, especially across the country, so it is normally done for bigger things.

  16. I was served a divorce paper about a week ago, my spouse is in the Caribbean while I’m in the US, NY. We got married in the caribbean through religious rights in 2015 and lawfully in the US in 2018. My spouse/ petitioner bought a car in 2016 (we were living together at that time) he was making all the monthly payments because I was a housewife (no kids). After I migrated into the US with my family leaving him behind, he was given a few assets to be the care taker of until someone decides to buy them. After asking for a divorce, he would not give the assets and took a few more things from me during his vacation here in the US (2019) such as jewelry, phone etc without confronting me and ask for it. I found out a few days later, asked him about it, he did mentioned he’s keeping it but did not return it. How do I get him to repay for those items?

    1. Is the divorce filed in the U.S.? If it is, then you can go t court and ask for an equitable distribution of the marital assets. If it is filed outside of the U.S., you will be subject to whatever those laws are and however they are enforced. In any event, enforcement will likely be difficult being that he is outside of U.S. jurisdiction so that will make things quite difficult.
      Give one of our experienced divorce lawyers a call for some more details.

  17. So I just filed for divorce. My husband is trying to take the family vehicle from me and leave me workout a vehicle. During the marriage the vehicle was purchased and later on another vehicle was purchased by him for my mother. Do I have to surrender my vehicle to him because it’s in his name.

    1. If you are married, the court will likely say that each of you should have a vehicle – this car is marital property. Unless the judge says so, you do not have to give him the keys at this point, with rare exception.
      If this car is used for driving around kids as well, a judge would likely not take it away on account of that as well.

  18. My wife has my car but it’s all in my name she kicked me out I’m now homeless with no where to live and no transportation to work what can I do to get my car back

    1. A court order stating that she must turn over the keys would most likely be needed to obtain the vehicle. File for divorce and file a motion to turnover of the car keys and the vehicle. It’s possible the police would do something if you had the title, but many times they will tell you to “take it up with the judge.”
      If you only have 1-car in the family and there are kids living with your wife though, be prepared for the judge to say no to your request since the judge will always do what seems best for the children.

    1. If she has a car and you have a car, then you each should keep one of them, usually the one either of you is primarily driving and/or primarily paying for.

      1. Lance Tippeconnic

        She has a car and I have a car. So she has a spare key takes my car without my permission gets loan taken out on my car and they take it. My car is in both our names. I think that she did it maliciously so I cant have a vehicle to work. She has 2 domestic abuse charges against her also. What do I do?

  19. I am soon going through a divorce in Wisconsin. I had a car before i got married. I traded the car I got into the marriage for a new car and put the down payment. The wife now wants that car. I have been the payer of the the car. She has been earning money and stashing it away and traveling to her boyfriends she meet on line during our marriage. Any suggestions?

    1. The vehicle ‘might’ be able to have some of the value “traced” to its pre-marital value and pushed in your direction during the dividing of the marital assets. But if it is ‘her car’ and you have another car, it is possible that one of you buys the other out or you each just keep your own car and pay your own car notes.
      As far as her stashing money away, that is all marital property if acquired during the marriage and thus, subject to division during the divorce process.
      If she has been spending money on trips, etc., with boyfriends, that sounds like what we call “dissipation of the marital estate” and she would have to “pay back” all or a portion of those funds (that can be proven) to the ‘marital estate’ when determining how much of the assets each of you gets in the end.
      Using dissipation as a negotiating point is normal, but if it actually comes to getting a ruling on dissipation, this won;’t happen until trial, which is easily 18-months to 2-years in the future (in many courts). And because only a portion of it eventually goes to your side of the equation (its marital money, so half to you and half to her; usually), think about how much 50% of that total amount she spent is and if its worth dropping $15k to go to trial to obtain that half. Most of the time, it isn’t.
      When the divorce is filed, you can quickly initiate discovery, which forces each party to turn over a few years of tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, bills, paycheck stubs, etc., and then also allow for you to send subpoenas to banks, etc., to obtain them if she won’t give them to you voluntarily.
      Best advice, since these are pretty complex questions that the majority of divorces do not deal with, is to actually get a local attorney that is has experience in complex division of assets during divorce, because there are a lot of details involved.

  20. Summer Paige Ybarra

    HI, I’m currently applying to get my Masters in Criminal Justice before I pursue law school. Applicants were sent a form of test I guess to see how much they remember from undergraduate school and I’m stuck on one of the questions. The question asks if a husband buys multiple cars while married, but puts them in his wife’s name who would have the right to them if they divorced? Divorce wasn’t something we ever went over during undergrad, we stuck more to criminal law. I’ve tried to look it up, but can’t seem to get an accurate answer since all of the websites contradict one another. Could you help me please?

  21. we have three car all in my wifes name we are know separated and i am out a vehicle to go to work how is this possible been marred ten years please hellp

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