Assets in Divorce
Cars, Motorcycles, and Vehicles

When you're headed for divorce, car and truck ownership is a commonly overlooked issue, but it can cause a lot of grief.

By WomansDivorce | Answers by Brette Sember, J.D.

Are you concerned about what will happen to your vehicles during the divorce? Can your spouse take your vehicle or will you get to keep it? And will he have to compensate you if he retains ownership of a jointly owned car? Take a look at the answers to the questions below to get an idea of what you should keep in mind when splitting up.

Is he entitled to my vehicle?

Dividing everything in a divorce - cars, home, and children

Dee Asks: My husband filed for divorce. I need to know if he can legally get my car which is in my name and I am currently paying on. Also, can he get my older car which is in my name and is paid for?

Brette's Answer: If your vehicles were bought during the marriage and are considered marital property, they will be distributed in your divorce. This does not mean he will get them: just that they must be considered in the property division and you can ask to keep them. If you owned them prior to marriage, they are not marital property.

How do I get possession of the car if it's in both our names?

Crystal's Question: We are currently separated but he will not give the car that is both of our names to me. He does not have a license to drive and he is an excluded driver on our insurance. Do I have the legal right to take the car or how do we get everything straightened out?

Brette: If he won't agree to let you have possession, you will need to file for a court order giving you possession of the car to get it from him. Discuss it with an attorney.

Can he take the car back if he gave it to me as a wedding gift?

Tonya's Question: After 4 years of marriage, my husband wants a divorce. He bought me a car as my wedding gift from him. Can he stop making the payments and take my wedding gift back? I have weekly doctors' appointments and need my car. He left me with no way of supporting myself, but said he will pay for the divorce since I have no source of income. Please Help Me....

Brette's Answer: Gifts are considered separate property and are not distributed in the divorce. You can ask for temporary alimony.

Will he get half the value of the car if I purchase it on my own?

Kathy's Question: We've been separated for 5 months and I just served him with divorce papers. If I purchase a vehicle by myself, will it be half his once the divorce is completed?

Brette Replies: It depends on what funds you use to buy it with. Money you earned and items you bought with separate funds means it is a separate car. If you used marital funds, it could be subject to division, depending on how the assets are broken down.

Does he have any claim to the truck if it was paid for with my inheritance?

Theresa's Question: I inherited my father's retirement fund when he passed. I used that to purchase a truck to pull my camper trailer. My husband manipulated me into having his name be put on it because he was to be driving it. Now we are getting a divorce and he wants the truck, but didn't pay a dime for it and it came out of my separate inheritance account. Does he have any claim to it being it was paid for on full by an inheritance and is registered in both our names?

Brette's Answer: You should talk to an attorney, but generally when you convert separate property to marital property in this way, it is divided in the divorce. 

Is my vehicle marital property if I started buying before we were married?

Zana's Question: My wife and I (legal gay marriage in our state) are separated and supposed to be moving back in. However, I want to get my ducks in a row beforehand, just in case she decides to serve me papers. I have a vehicle that I signed for and started buying before we got married. When we said our vows, it was just short of half paid off. It is in my name alone, though she's on the insurance as an occasional driver. If she files against me, would she have any hope of getting my vehicle, even though I’m alone on the title, the lien, and the contract, which was signed prior to marriage?

Brette's Answer: Any amount paid toward the loan during the marriage is considered marital property, so she could be entitled to a portion of the value of the vehicle. Talk to an attorney to understand your rights in your state.

Can I get the vehicle my husband bought after we separated?

Diana's Question: I'm in the process of a divorce. My husband has a girlfriend and has already gotten a loan in his name to purchase a vehicle for her. If the vehicle is titled in his name (or his and her name or even just in her name), is there a chance I could get that vehicle in the divorce settlement or at least consider it one of his assets?

Brette's Answer: Property distribution values are frequently determined based on the date of separation, so the car would not even be an issue unless he used marital funds to pay for it.

What can I do if the car is in his name?

Jeanette's Question: We bought a home under his name 3 years ago, and he signed for my car that I drive and pay for. Can I do anything if he takes the car?

Brette's Answer: If the car is in his name, he is the legal owner. While the divorce is pending, you can ask for a temporary order giving you possession of the car, since anything bought during marriage is a marital asset. You need to find a way to work out an agreement with him. You might consider going to mediation if you can't do this on your own. You are entitled to some value back from the equity of the home you contributed to. Depending on the value of the car, it might be a fair trade for you to keep the car and him to keep the house. If he agrees to this trade, make sure that he signs the title over to you.

Can't I just take the car if I have a spare key?

Jane's Question: My partner and I split after 7 years. We didn't marry but lived together and shared a car, which I took when I moved out. 6 month later he came and took the car back without me knowing. I have spare key, so can I take car back although the car is in his name? Can I get prosecuted for just taking it?

Brette's Answer: You need seek advice from an attorney in your area. If you contributed to the payments you may have an ownership interest, but just taking it when your name isn't on the car title could be problematic.

What if the car was given to me but registered in his name?

Lala's Question: A vehicle was given to me as a gift and we register it in his name because I didn't have my license with me at the time. I have always paid for the registration, insurance, maintenance, etc. A couple of months ago he got into an accident. The vehicle was totaled and the insurance company issued payment in his name. He took the money and left me without a vehicle or the money to purchase a new one. Can I get reimbursed or compensated for this in the divorce?

Brette: Generally items acquired during marriage are marital property and are divided in the divorce. If a car was a gift to you it is your separate property, however there may be a question as to whether you converted it to marital property since the title was in his name. The insurance payment is also marital property. This will be divided as part of your asset distribution.

Can I drive my truck until a judge decides who it goes to?

Daryla's Question: We've been married four months. Last month I traded in my car which was paid for in on a newer model truck. The title is in his name but it is registered in both of our names. If I file for divorce while it is in my possession, can he legally take the vehicle or is it considered community property? He has a vehicle that is already paid off. Do I have the right to leave in the vehicle until a judge decides who it goes to?

Brette's Answer: It is marital property, subject to division in the divorce. Both of you own it until a judge divides it in the divorce. If there are two cars, no one would question you taking the one that is generally considered "yours".

What if he isn’t paying the car lease during our separation?

Carol's Question: We live separately and my soon-to-be ex doesn't contribute any money to the bills, leaving me in a financial crisis (close to filing bankruptcy). He is still driving a car that is leased solely under my name. He refuses to pay, refuses to return the car to me, and refuses to respond my request. What can I do? I don't have funds to pay for another month.

Brette's Answer: Talk to your lawyer about a temporary order directing him to pay part of these expenses during the pendency of the case.

Shouldn't I be compensated if he keeps the truck?

Pamela's Question: We purchased my husband's pickup truck four years ago using the equity line of credit on our home. Since he will be keeping the pickup, my thinking is that I should be compensated for it. He does not think this is fair. My point is why should I pay for him to have a fully paid for truck at the end of this when it is "his" truck. Am I missing something here?

Brette's Answer: What you both need to realize is that all of the assets and debts acquired during your marriage are part of the marital estate and must be divided in a way which is fair to both parties. An easy way to accomplish this is by creating a balance sheet of all the assets and debts from the marriage. To reach this equitable division, the pickup would be added to the total assets, while the loan balance is part of the total debts. If he wants to keep the pickup, then you should either get additional assets which are equal in value to the truck or he needs to assume more of the debt responsibilities. Instead of focusing on just one item, it helps to look the entire picture to achieve an equal division of the assets and debts.

Does he owe me half the trade-in value when he buys a new vehicle?

Tonya's Question: Both our names are on the truck and he traded it in (which I agreed with, because he can’t afford the payment any longer), and the dealership gave him $10,000 more than what the payoff amount is. The extra $10K was then used towards the down payment on a new vehicle and he took out a loan for the balance. Does he technically owe me half of the $10K he made trading the truck in?

Brette's Answer: You need to talk with your attorney about this because it is dependent on what your court order says about ownership. 

Are improvements to vehicles considered community property?

Stacie's Question: My husband owned a boat and car before we were married. His name is on both titles. I paid off the motor with my money and also put 20k into his race car. If I have the receipts, would I be able to claim as community property the money I put into his boat and car?

Brette's Answer: Improvement to separately owned property is considered marital property.

Is he legally bound to get me another vehicle if we divorce?

Windy's Dilemma: We've been separated for a while now. I had to quit my job because the motor in the car blew up and I had no way to get to work. He won't get me another vehicle so that I can find another job to support myself. If I file for divorce is he bound legally to get me another vehicle? He works off shore and money is not an issue for him.

Brette's Answer: He's not required to get you a car but there would likely be a financial settlement in your divorce and possibly temporary spousal support.

Is the car value determined on the date of separation or divorce?

Alexandra's Question: We're living in a community property state and my spouse has a car which is community property. The divorce process has been going on for several months and he says that the car will need a repair for several thousand dollars and this amount will be subtracted from the value. Is this fair - the car was fine at the time of separation and now he's claiming repair costs just to get its value down? Or should the car be valued as per separation date?

Brette Answers: Assets such as your car are generally valued as of the date a couple separates. Good luck.

What if he sells the business vehicle before we divorce?

KK's Question: My husband purchased a Medallion Yellow Taxi under only his name. He could get a $300,000 loan out of it, or he could sell and get all the cash; then its value will be zero. How can I make sure that I get my fair share?

Brette's Answer: If the Medallion Taxi was purchased during marriage, it would be considered a marital asset and its value goes into the pot of what is to be divided. If it is not a marital asset, you might still have some claim as to this taxi business's increase in value. If he sells the medallion and it is a marital asset, the proceeds of that sale still remain a marital asset and must be divided. I suggest you talk to a lawyer who can sit down with you and explain all of your rights.

What if the car wasn’t included in the divorce papers?

Rebecca's Question: I made a terrible mistake by not including my car (that is registered to me and financed in my name) in my divorce. I let my ex-husband take over payments and use it. He recently stopped paying and I have no idea where he is. What can I do? I just want him to give me the car or finishing the remaining 3k in payments.

Brette's Answer: Talk to an attorney about amending your divorce to include the car. 

What if he won't sign over the car like we agreed?

Question: Before our split, we bought a car and the loan was taken out in my ex-husband's name, with me as the co-signer. In our divorce, I was awarded the car, but it was to remain titled in both our names until the loan was paid off. The bank then sent the car title to my ex when the loan was paid off. Now my ex is saying he won't give me the title until I repay him for 3 payments he made to the bank. What recourse do I have to get the title?

Brette's Answer: If the car was to be turned over to you once it was paid for, then that's what is supposed to happen. You can file a petition for a violation with the divorce court which will order him to turn it over or hold him in contempt. I'm not sure I understand how he made payments you were unaware of. The court could decide to order you to repay him for that since you will benefit once the title is turned over to you.

Can he take me to court if he signed the car over to me?

Lori's Question: My ex-husband and I were divorced five years ago! He was awarded both vehicles in the divorce but he ended up allowing me to keep one and signed it over to me! We never filed any court documents and now he is threatening me with grand theft auto. He ultimately signed the truck over to me willingly. Can he take me back to court for this?

Brette's Answer: If he legally signed it over to you it's yours.

What are my options if his name is still on the auto loan?

Shelly's Question: We bought a truck two years ago and he is the primary loan holder on it. I was granted the truck in our divorce, but I can no longer afford it. What are my options if his name is still on the loan?

Brette's Answer: You should talk with your attorney to understand what your divorce decree says, but if you are the owner of the truck, you can sell it or if it is leased, turn it back in.

Does my divorce decree override the auto loan agreement?

Catherine's Question: When I got divorced the truck, which is in both our names, was given to my ex along with all financial obligations.  He chose not to pay for it and they have reposed the truck and want me to pay $11K because my name is first on the title - does my divorce contract override the initial agreement?

Brette's Answer: No. The divorce decree cannot change your obligations. What you can do is take your ex to court to reimburse you for this debt since he was held responsible for it by the court. 

Can I repossess the vehicle if he defaulted on the loan?

Dori's Question: While married, we bought a camper titled in my name. When we divorced the courts gave him the camper & said he was responsible for payments. He defaulted, and my credit took the hit. Can I repossess it since he defaulted?

Brette's Answer: No since you don't own it. Ownership was given to him.

How soon after the divorce can I use the vehicle for a trade in?

Violet's Question: In the final divorce decree I was awarded a vehicle which my ex-husband has been ordered to finish paying off ($378.88). How soon after this decree can I legally use said vehicle as a trade in for something else?

Brette's Answer: It seems you would want to wait for him to actually do the pay off so that you could get the full trade in value. You should check with your attorney as to how quickly the pay off will happen.

What if he isn't paying the toll violations and the car is in my name?

Stacy's Question: My ex-husband is driving a car that I am on the title. He is refusing to pay toll violations and continues to rack up the tolls. I have provided documentation for him to be able to put the car solely in his name, but he refuses to do the process. So my only option was to cancel his license plate to get him to pay the tolls. He is now threatening to sue me for $5,000. Did I have the right to cancel his plate? 

Brette's Answer: The question is who got the car in the divorce. If it is yours you should get that title changed to your name alone. If it is yours you have every right to cancel the plates. If he owns the car it needs to be transferred to his name. Canceling the plates in your name is appropriate. You can also go back to court and seek to have the order modified so that he pays his own tolls.

How do I get the title in my name so I can sell his abandoned truck?

Diane's Question: My ex-husband failed to remove all of his personal property from my home as agreed to in our divorce, so anything left behind becomes my property. My question is, I now own his truck, but he has the legal title. How do I go about getting the title in my name so I can sell the truck?

Brette's Answer: You need an order from the court.

Can I give my brother my Harley before we get divorced?

Pat's Question: Can I give my Harley to my brother as a gift if we aren't legally separated and haven't started divorce proceedings?

Brette's Answer: You can, but you need to understand that when the divorce is started, that it could be added back in as a marital asset.

Will he have a claim to my car if it's registered to someone else?

Rochelle's Question: I acquired a car last year, but the car is registered in my brother-in-law's name because he agreed to stand surety for it. Can my husband have claim to anything that is not legally registered in my name?

Brette's Answer: It depends. If you purchased the car, then it is an asset of yours. I'm not sure why you would have your relative take ownership other than in an attempt to defraud the court and your husband. If so, this is dangerous ground you are on and you should talk to an attorney.

Can my truck become part of my partner’s divorce if I lend it to him?

Melissa's Question: My business partner is currently going through the divorce process. He has a truck that is under my name and not his, I am just lending him that truck and paying for it as well. But she keeps threatening him to fight for that truck. Is that possible?

Brette's Answer: Unless you have transferred ownership to him in some way, it would not be involved in the divorce.

Do I have to give back the keys if he keeps the vehicle?

Jennifer's Question: My husband is being awarded the truck, and the loan for the truck, in our divorce. He is insisting I give him back my copy of the truck key and the remote since they are for the truck. Can the judge order me to give him the key/remote? He has threatened to take the money he owes me and have the truck re-keyed and then only pay me the balance left over between what he owes me and what re-keying the truck will cost.

Brette's Answer: Why on earth would you want to keep a key and remote for a vehicle that is not going to be yours? There's no reason to keep it. Just give it to him. If you don't, yes, he can certainly take you back to court and the judge can certainly order that the cost of a replacement be taken out of your property division, not to mention the fact that you could be ordered to pay court costs. Stop making this so difficult and just hand the keys over.

Can I have his car towed away if the divorce isn't finalized yet?

Tammy's Question: We aren't divorced yet but have gone through mediation and he has moved out our home. He has gone past the deadline he was given to pick up all of his belongings and left an old pickup truck in the backyard. Can I have it towed off of the property now?

Brette's Answer: If this is a deadline set voluntarily in mediation and not set by the court, then no. In general it's not reasonable to interfere with the other's property without notice and reasonable time to comply.

Can he get a title to my vehicle if it's registered to me?

P's Question: My ex-husband refuses to return a vehicle that is registered in my name. I can't report it stolen because I gave him permission to use it. Now he is trying to title the vehicle in his name saying that he was awarded the truck in the divorce, even though the vehicle was not specifically identified. Can he legally get it registered in his name?

Brette's Answer: If you let him borrow it and he refuses to return it, it is stolen. And if the decree does not specifically award it to him, he will have no way to transfer title.

How can the title be transferred if he left the country?

Amy's Question: My friend’s husband has left the U.S. and went back to China, abandoning her and their two young children. He told her that he leaves all properties to her before leaving. The car and house are both under his name and the court gave her full right to use them. She needs to have the title to the car transferred over and registered in her name in 30 days or her N.J. auto insurance policy will be voided. How can that be done if he’s not in the US?

Brette's Answer: She should talk with her attorney about this. The court can award her the car, but she will need to find out what her state's DMV requires to legally transfer title. 

Are the vehicles my property if I bought them before we married?

Tanya's Question: Before we got married, I used my credit to help my ex to buy a motorcycle and a car. He stopped paying for both and now the creditors are after me. We just got divorced. Due to jurisdiction issues, the car and motorcycle were not split in the divorce. They are still my property right?

Brette's Answer: If the titles to those vehicles are in your name, they are yours because they were purchased before marriage.

Do I have to sell my vehicles if I paid for them with premarital money?

Sharon's Question: I have just separated from my husband. While married a car and motor home was purchased by means of a loan from my bank and came out of my sole account. Technically he has had nothing to do with the purchase of either vehicle. I have been making the payments from my sole account from my money that was in my account when I entered the marriage. Both are in my name. Does he have any right to make me sell them both and give him half?

Brette: If the money was yours before marriage and you did not convert it to marital funds and the assets remained in your name only and he did nothing to contribute to their upkeep, they should be separate property.

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