Why Married Couples Should Never Put Both Names on a Car Title
Having done personal injury and divorce work for the past 20 plus years, I have frequently seen situations where a married couple owns multiple vehicles and especially where there are teen drivers involved. In a lot of these cases, both parties are on the title to the vehicle. But did you know that doing this can financially devastate the owners if one of the co-owners or kids causes an automobile accident?
Under Florida’s dangerous instrumentality doctrine, the owner or owners of an automobile are responsible for the actions of the driver in almost every circumstance. When a married couple puts both their names on a title, they are placing their individual and family financial health at risk. When a personal injury lawsuit is filed, all owners are normally named. However, if the couple lists only one name on the title, it is an effective way to protect their joint assets from being at risk.
This issue was recently addressed by the Florida Supreme Court in the case of Christensen v. Bowen. Therein, the husband tried to avoid liability for an accident that occurred during the pendency of divorce proceedings by claiming that although his name was on the title with his wife’s, he did not have any beneficial ownership or control over the vehicle. This argument fell upon deaf ears as the act of intentionally putting his name on the title precluded him from making this argument. Even though the parties were involved in a divorce and the vehicle that was involved in the accident was eventually going to the wife, the fact that the husband had put his name on the title when the vehicle was originally purchased meant that he was now financially responsible for what the estranged wife had done.
This type of problem can be made worse when parties are granted their divorce but never get around to changing titles on the vehicles. It may not be convenient to go down to the tag agency, but it will certainly make a huge difference if your ex-spouse causes a car accident. You don’t want to get pegged with the responsibility.
Family law practitioners should always warn their clients to immediately transfer titles so that they are not financially responsible post dissolution. Signing a marital settlement agreement is insufficient. The actual titles need to be transferred in order for a joint owner to avoid liability. Talk to an experienced family law attorney today, and find out how you can avoid liability by only having one spouse’s name on an automobile’s title.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by Naypong