What should you do if you’re getting a divorce and the car is in your husband’s name? Are you entitled to the car? Couples in a middle of a divorce will have to decide on who gets what in the process. If you cannot agree on the distribution of assets, the court will decide.

Each state’s laws vary. However, if your marriage’s status is “community property,” that means your property, including vehicles, purchased after your wedding is considered jointly owned and divided evenly. If you live in a common-law state, judges do not have to divide assets and property equally. Instead, the court will divide it in a manner it thinks is reasonable and equitable.

The family car is one of the biggest causes of contention for divorcing couples. The eternal question a married woman asks during a divorce is, can your husband take your car if it’s in his name?

Many couples buy cars under the other spouse’s name for one reason or the other. Whether your husband can take your car if it’s in his name depends on where you live and when you bought the car. First, let’s explore who would get the car in a community property state.

Can Your Husband Take Your Car If It’s In His Name?

Before we answer the question, let’s explain further what community property is. Also known as marital property, it refers to a U.S. state-level legal distinction that designates a married individual’s assets. This legal distinction means that any income, real or personal property acquired by either spouse during a marriage, is considered community property and belongs to both marriage partners.

Under community property, spouses own everything equally, regardless of who earns or spends the income. During a divorce, the courts split marital assets and debts 50-50.

Suppose you reside in one of these nine states and are divorcing. In that case, your community property is expected to be divided equally. A divorcing couple will be required to split their assets 50/50, but only assets acquired while they were domiciled in the state.

So, can you ask the court to grant you car ownership during divorce procedures?

How then is a car divided? Due to economic and practical circumstances, certain assets such as the car or house will be distributed wholly to one spouse. However, each spouse still ends up with 50 percent of all community property in terms of total economic value.

This is most common regarding marital homes and cars. Since it is not feasible to divide a car or house in half, often the court will award one spouse the car or house. The other spouse receives other assets that’s value is equal to half the car’s value or home.

Divorcing couples in a community property state will have to share or split the value of the vehicle. Suppose the car title is in the husband’s name during divorce, but the car was purchased during the marriage. A judge in a community property state will equally divide the car’s value. Each spouse will be entitled to 50% of the car’s market value. If the car’s market value is $10000, each spouse will be entitled to $5000. Whoever keeps the car should buy the other spouse out with cash or transfer some other property worth $5000.

Everything earned or acquired by one or both parties during the marriage when they lived in a community property state is considered community property. This covers all revenue, real or personal property paid for with funds from the government, and pension and savings plans.

Debts are considered community property, and they are deducted from the overall sum to be divided.

Property owned by either spouse before the marriage or after the legal separation is not be considered or divided as community property. If one spouse received gifts or inheritances during the marriage, these are excluded from the division.

Suppose community funds were used to purchase and pay down property in states such as California. In that case, it should be divided equally at divorce, even if titled in only one spouse’s name.

Common law states

Common law property is the complete opposite of community property. Unless the property is placed under your name and your husband’s, the property belongs to the spouse who acquired it during the marriage.

For example, suppose the car title is under your husband’s name during divorce proceedings. In that case, that means your husband owns the car because his name is exclusively on the title.

The equitable distribution principle is the guiding principle that determines how to divide property under common law states. The idea is that property ownership is fundamentally unequal because of the degree of partners’ education, employability, level, earning potential, financial needs, age, and health.

Taking these factors into account should make property fair allocation, but not necessarily equal or 50-50. Even though in some states, a title can be a significant factor in deciding who owns what property, this doesn’t necessarily end the analysis of how to distribute property equitably. Sometimes judges in some of these states may order that one spouse use their separate property to reach a fair settlement for both spouses.

Suppose you’ve had fairly exclusive use of a certain car during the marriage. In that case, a judge will probably allow you to keep it after the divorce. This is especially true if your spouse has access to a particular vehicle.

Suppose a spouse wants to keep a car bought during a marriage because she has a greater need for a car to drive the children to school or to get to work. In that case, you will need to explain and prove why this would be a fair outcome to the judge.

In these matters, the judge seeks to achieve an equitable result. A judge may award the car to the spouse most in need of the vehicle and order that spouse to pay the other spouse 50% of the value or some different percentage that’s fair under the circumstances.

Selling The Car Before A Divorce

Suppose you use and possess a vehicle in your husband’s name and was acquired before the marriage. In that case, nothing is preventing your husband from selling the car before the divorce. However, the issue that may arise is how your spouse will obtain possession to sell the vehicle if the car is with you.

On the other hand, if your husband took the car because it is in his name, the vehicle was acquired during the marriage. The car is considered marital property, and you can claim an equitable share of the value. Suppose the car title is in your husband’s name during divorce proceedings once the divorce is filed or served. In that case, he is banned from disposing of the car while the case is pending, other than in the ordinary course of business or for life’s necessities.

If a spouse needs to dispose of their property for the above reasons, they can. Still, a spouse must provide accounting and paperwork for this transaction. If a spouse sells before the divorce, all paperwork regarding the sale and accounting of what you use the proceeds for should still be kept.

As such, what you spend the money on matters, even if pre-filing or pre-service. Suppose the matter goes to hearing and there is anything that looks unjust or unfair about the transaction. In that case, it might affect the spouse’s credibility, who disposes of the asset.

To safeguard against any repercussion, a spouse should obtain permission to sell any marital property.

Buying A Car During Divorce

Suppose you need to buy a car during divorce because maybe your car is with your ex, or you simply need a car to shuttle the kids around. In that case, it is essential to consider how your purchase may impact your divorce proceedings. The money that comes from purchasing the asset will be a significant factor in determining whether the car will be considered separate property or marital property and therefore liable for distribution amongst you and your ex.

Suppose you use money that is separate from the money acquired during your marriage. In that case, it may fall under the separate property umbrella. However, if you use a shared account or similar funds, the court may view it as an asset to divide.
Consider leasing a car during your divorce to avoid having to pay your spouse anything for it.

Transferring Car Ownership After Divorce

To get your ex’s name off your car title after divorce, you will need either his approval or an order from the court. You can undertake this procedure even before the divorce is finalized if you and your ex agree on who will get the vehicle. Changing the name on the title is usually a simple matter of applying for a new title in your name only, effectively removing the other name.

Suppose your divorce settlement explicitly specifies that you’ve been given the car. In that case, certain states will accept a copy of it to affect the transfer. You do not need your ex’s signature or cooperation, depending on the state. To find out the particular laws and procedures in your area, go to your state’s website.

If you’re transferring the car from one name to another, take the title to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Depending on where you live, you may need to submit additional forms, which can vary by state. Check your DMV office website for more details about which forms you need. In addition to sending the appropriate paperwork, your ex has to sign the title, confirming that he or she is handing possession over to you.

Key Take Away

  • Couples getting a divorce will have to decide who will take which assets, such as the family car. Suppose couples cannot agree, the divorce heads to court with a judge ultimately deciding how assets are divided.
  • The law of the state determines the division of assets. Each state’s laws differ. However, generally, you will either be living under a community property state or a common-law state.
  • Community property states distribute property that was acquired during the marriage on a 50-50 basis.
  • Common law states distribute property based on the equitable distribution principle, which means assets are distributed equitably but not necessarily equally or 50-50.
  • Suppose a car is part of the marital property, then in a community property state. In that case, each party gets 50 percent of the value of the car. One party may take the car instead of paying out the other party’s share.
  • In a common-law state, a court will look at various factors, They include the length of the marriage, age, the standard of living during the marriage, how each spouse contributed to the marriage, among other things, in determining a “fair and equitable” division of all marital property.
Divorce & Finance