Asked in Divorce and Family Law for Missouri

Q: Before a divorce should I give a jointly owned car title to my estranged wife

It is in my safe deposit box and I think she wants to sell the car to pay her lawyer

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1 Lawyer Answer
Chad Garrett Mann
Chad Garrett Mann
  • Springfield, MO
  • Licensed in Missouri

A: Missouri is an "equitable distribution" state, which means that in a divorce, all marital property (that is, property acquired or increased during the marriage) is divided in a manner that the court finds fair and equitable. The court considers a range of factors, including each spouse's economic circumstances, contributions to the marriage, the value of each spouse's non-marital property, and conduct during the marriage.

If you transfer a jointly owned car to your estranged wife before the divorce, several outcomes could occur:

1. The transfer could be seen as a gift: If the transfer is considered a gift, it could potentially reduce the amount of property you're entitled to in the divorce. The court might see the transfer as an agreement between you and your wife about how to divide that piece of marital property. If you later claim that you want the car or its equivalent value back, the court may not agree.

2. The transfer could be seen as dissipating marital assets: If you transferred the car to negatively impact your wife's share of the marital property (for example, if the car is of high value and you have other substantial assets), the court could consider this dissipation of assets. Dissipation refers to a spouse using marital property in a way that only benefits themself or in a reckless or wasteful manner, especially when a divorce is imminent. Courts don't look favorably on dissipation, and it could result in you getting a smaller share of the remaining marital property.

3. The transfer could affect the overall property division: The court would consider the transfer when dividing other marital property. For example, if you gave your wife the car, the court might award you more of another asset to balance things out. Conversely, if the court considers the car a marital asset and you've already transferred it, you might receive less in the overall division of property.

4. The transfer could have tax implications: Depending on the specifics, there could be tax consequences for transferring property.

Before making any decisions about transferring property, it's very important to get legal advice. It's crucial to understand all the potential implications, which can vary depending on the specifics of your situation, including the value of the car, the rest of your marital and non-marital property, any agreement or lack thereof between you and your wife, and more. You should also consider possible non-legal factors, such as how the transfer could impact your relationship with your estranged wife.

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