Divorce and the family car – Part 1

February 4, 2020

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What might I need to think about?

Whilst it may not necessarily be at the forefront of your mind when divorce proceedings are underway, the family car is not something you will want to overlook. In some cases, a relatively low value may be attributable to the family car but it is the utility which is often indispensable (particularly where a car is required to ferry any young children around or where a car is required to get to work). A replacement car (where the couple only have one family car which is often the case) can be a considerable expense and one for which funds may not be readily available at the end of the day.

Aside from totting up the associated costs of car ownership and agreeing who will keep the car, you may also need to find out information about all vehicles owned by your partner given the overall value which can be attributed to such an asset.

In this two part blog, Professional Support Lawyer Carla Ditz looks at some of the issues that may arise insofar as the family car is concerned when couples separate.

Agreeing who keeps the car

What happens when there is only one family car but both parties have the need for one? Where there is sufficient money in the pot for one of you to keep the family car and for another one to be purchased for your partner, this need not be a sticking point for negotiation. Where resources are limited, you may well have to negotiate who gets to keep the car and arguments may centre around who needs the car more – for the school run for example. Otherwise the cost of a replacement car will need to be factored into any financial claim as well as the costs of running it.

As always, you should try to agree between you who keeps the family car rather than incurring legal fees on what should be a relatively straightforward issue.

Costs of ownership

The running costs of owning a car are of course, not insubstantial. You will have

  • vehicle tax (vehicle exercise duty),
  • car insurance
  • MOTs
  • servicing and maintenance costs
  • fuel and, potentially,
  • monthly financing costs (is the car subject to a hire-purchase arrangement, for example?)

It is important to establish what these costs might be and factor them into any budget for future financial needs. There are some websites such as Money Advice Service or Parkers that can assist in establishing the costs if these are not apparent (and can also provide a guide to its value, although a dealership will also be able to help with this.)

At separation there can be a need to manage all sorts of economies.  Totting up all the costs of a car, alongside the cost of setting aside enough money to replace it can create an impressive set of numbers.  Many people, particularly those in cities with decent transport systems to draw on and amenities that are often on the door-step, draw a deep breath and start to look at alternatives.  A five or six thousand pound annual spend can equate to an impressive number of taxi/ minicab lifts … and might side-step the increasingly heavy taxes that are no doubt going to land as Government wakes up to its carbon-commitments.

Valuing a vehicle

A car is an asset, much like jewellery or art. It must therefore be disclosed as part of the financial disclosure process on divorce. There are various ‘car costs calculators’ which can assist such as Parkers but you can also request a valuation from a registered dealer or simply agree a value.

Where one party is a car enthusiast with a cherished collection of cars, the question of value rather than utility will be raised. The subject of future ownership may become non-negotiable in the car-lover’s eyes. Where specialist cars are involved, the assistance of an expert valuer may be required.

The costs of car ownership and value of a vehicle aside, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to obtain information about a vehicle or its owner.

What information can I get from the DVLA?

Information about the vehicle

You are able to check online to see what information is held by the DVLA about the vehicle provided you have the vehicle registration number. Such information may include the rate of vehicle tax and when it expires, when the MOT expires and when the vehicle was first registered. You can find out more information on the DVLA website: ‘Get vehicle information from the DVLA’.

Information about the registered owner

Where you would like to find out information as to the registered owner of the vehicle, you can ask the DVLA (for a Subject Access Request) provided you have a ‘reasonable cause’ which can include

  • finding out who was responsible for an accident
  • tracing the registered keeper of an abandoned vehicle
  • tracing the registered keeper of a vehicle parked on private land

For more information about the type of information you can obtain and who can request it and how, see the DVLA ‘Giving people information from our vehicle record’ and ‘Request information about a vehicle or its registered keeper’

In the Part 2 of this blog, we will look at what steps need to be taken if a car is transferred into your name.

For information or advice regarding any of the topics discussed in this blog or for independent legal advice on your divorce or separation, please contact any of our talented team of family lawyers at Family Law in Partnership on 020 7420 5000 or contact us at: hello@flip.co.uk