Getting Custody of Your Car in a Divorce or Breakup? Here are 6 Things You Need to Do

What To Do When Your Car Is Part Of The Divorce, Too

From building your credit to keeping your ex from stalking you, here’s how to protect yourself.

Divorce and breakups happen. We have varying degrees of emotions about them: sadness, relief, elation, fear – sometimes all of those things and more at the same time. No matter how you might be feeling about the demise of a relationship, there’s a laundry list of practical things that go with the emotional stuff. Let’s talk about car things to do after your divorce or breakup.

Six things to secure your car, and your safety after a divorce or breakup

January is known as divorce month. If “Let’s just make it through the holidays before we call the lawyers” rings true, you’re definitely not alone. However, according to the New York Times, March and August are the busiest months for divorce lawyers. Those who might wait until January to contact an attorney may be starting to get rolling with the particulars in mid-spring.  

Does this ring true for you? We have practical tips to help you navigate your car life post divorce or breakup.

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If you’re facing a divorce or breakup this year, here are four car things you need to know. Photo: Jill Robbins

1.Reset, Reset, Reset!

Newer cars have smartphone apps that do lots of cool things, such as unlock, start, or locate your car. I remember calling my husband after a frustrating half hour looking for my car in an airport parking garage. He reminded me the Hyundai app had a “find my car” feature. We actually hadn’t had the car for very long and I hadn’t downloaded the app to my phone. Fortunately, my husband had. He was able to find the car and sound the alarm. I followed the beeps to find my car. I was on the wrong level (not my finest hour) and all was well.

On another occasion, my husband told me he’d looked on the app to see where I was. I was out running errands and was longer than I said I’d be, so he sent me a text. He checked the app to see where I was parked when I didn’t answer his text. He saw I was at the grocery store and went back to whatever he was doing.

All totally benign and a little bit useful, right?

But what if he was my ex-husband? Would I want him to be able to open an app and instantly know I was at the airport, a store, a restaurant, or someone’s house? No matter how amicable our breakup, no, I probably would not want him to be able to see my car’s location on a whim.

2. Keep safety top of mind

One of my personal friends, who has asked to remain anonymous, shared with me her ex-husband created a login for her Lexus app unbeknownst to her. She’d leased the car after their divorce, but her ex-husband later admitted to taking a picture of the VIN through the windshield in order to gain access to the app.

He was outed when he asked her why her car had been parked at a bar. They were legally divorced. This was not his car. He was in another state. He was able to see where her car was parked via technology.

In a well-publicized account, an Australian woman was stalked by an ex who used a variety of apps and spyware to track her car’s movement. The man had helped her purchase and set up the app. She had granted him access to the car’s registration info.

These are extreme examples, but protect your privacy and safety. Do a reset on your app. Also do a password change. Pay attention and investigate any activity on your app that looks amiss.

If you suspect someone is stalking you through your car app, alert the manufacturer and law enforcement ASAP.

Also, before you divorce, consider how location apps might apply to your situation. If your partner doesn’t know you’re considering a divorce, do you want them to find out because they saw your location was at a lawyer’s office? Best case scenario: super awkward and probably not the way you want to start that conversation.

Related: Lyft and Uber safety tips. Apps to get you there safely. 

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There’s a lot of auto-related red tape to wade through when you’re getting a divorce. Photo: Jill Robbins

3.  Is custody of the car clear and in writing?

No matter how amicable your split is, have the car’s post-divorce ownership set in writing. Who’s keeping the car should not be ambiguous. Make sure your paperwork specifically addresses how ownership and title are transferred. Set calendar reminders to follow up with steps in the process, such as checking back with the title company, DMV, or lender to make sure things happen.

Administrative things sometimes fall through the cracks. Make lists. Prioritize staying on top of your car business.

Make sure you understand how/when any name changes will impact your car paperwork. You may end up going through some of these paperwork paper trails twice. I know – this is not fun. I’ve been there. Manage expectations by laying the process out early in the game.

4. How does auto maintenance factor in?

If you’re not the one who has been primarily responsible for auto maintenance, you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with the car’s maintenance history. Most people keep their car maintenance records in the glove compartment or in a folder. Make sure you specifically ask for a complete list of repair and ordinary maintenance paperwork. Take time to familiarize yourself with what you’ve got. If your car is newer, make sure you know the status of any warranties or maintenance plans.

Related: Maintenance tips to save you time and money

Going forward, you have a choice on who works on your car. Pick someone you feel comfortable with who treats you with respect. Don’t be afraid to call around, do some Googling or run an assessment on RepairPal if you think a repair estimate is too much.

If a car repair technician talks in terms you don’t understand, ask that they explain it to you in a way do understand. Ask them to show you the hole in the hose they’re telling you must be replaced. Being proactive will help you better understand how your car works and help you sniff out when someone is being dishonest.

5. Untangling Insurance

Unraveling joint insurance policies can be tedious. If you have multiple policies under one insurance agency, things are usually easier.

You’re going to want to make sure you establish auto insurance in your own name ASAP. There’s no reason to stay on a joint policy with someone you’re not married to. Even if the split is amicable. Even if you’ve got shared or joint custody and you foresee situations where an ex might need to drive your car to take your kids somewhere.

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A woman needs her own insurance policy after a divorce or breakup. Photo: Jill Robbins

Ask your insurance agent to talk you through these kinds of scenarios if you think they’ll apply. You probably have some provisions in your coverage for other adults who drive your car and vice versa. Learn the best- and worst-case scenario and make your plans from there.

If you have young children, consider purchasing duplicates of child safety seats. This will streamline kid swaps.

You may also want to consider changing insurance agents. You may be better served by working with a new agent if you’ve had a long-standing relationship with your current agent or your divorce is messy (or even just awkward.). Do you buy insurance through a large company such as State Farm or Allstate? You can most likely transfer to another agent and keep any status or benefits you’ve accrued with the company. If your divorce makes you even a tiny bit less comfortable that your interests and privacy aren’t your agent’s priority, make a change.

Related: Yes, you can buy a car at Costco. Here’s how to get the best deal. 

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A car purchase may be a woman’s first and most important purchase after a divorce. Photo: Jill Robbins

6. Buying a new car

If you’re buying a new (or new to you) car post-divorce, then it’s probably the first and largest major purchase you’re going to make as a newly single woman. It’s potentially overwhelming, which is probably a blanket statement that can apply to pretty much everything going on in your life right now.

Do your homework before heading to a dealership. Shop your new purchase carefully, get qualified for a loan with your bank or credit union so you know what you can afford and be sure the car you’re looking at will accommodate your needs. And if your credit history is tied up with your ex’s, or if you don’t have a credit history, you may be quoted a higher interest rate on a loan or a higher lease price.

The good news is that taking out an auto loan will help you establish and build credit and you can refinance at a later time to get a better rate – just prioritize making those payments on time. You can also consider having a parent or other close relative with solid credit cosign a loan if everyone’s comfortable with this and it lands you a better rate.

While you should be able to purchase something you’ll use daily using your own money without taking along your brother, male cousin or your best friend’s husband, make this post-divorce car purchase your starting point and use this opportunity to goal set and get where you want to be with car and consumer knowledge. If you need a wingman (or wingwoman) to provide support when car shopping, don’t feel guilty or less than about that. Just make sure the car salesperson knows who is making the purchase. A big red flag: a car salesperson not addressing you or making eye contact with you.

And remember, we’re here to help with any of your car buying questions. If you can’t find the answer by searching our website, just reach out and ask!

Jill is the oldest mom with the youngest kids pretty much everywhere she goes. She has a 29-year-old daughter... More about Jill Robbins