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The question is simple, but the situation is anything but. The bare bones info: my friend's son is a new driver who just had a minor, but scary, brush with the law. There is an extra car in this family, as my friend's husband kept his existing car when he purchased a newer one.

Hoping to get her son's attention, my friend would like to store his somewhat sporty car at another location, while her son would drive her own 15 year-old car, and she would use her husband's older car. This way the stored car would be an incentive toward some improvement and responsible behavior on her son's part, before it would be his to use again.

My friend's husband is refusing to "allow" her to use the car, as his way of forcing his own idea that the sporty car should be sold as a punishment. Does my friend have a right to the car as marital property, even though it's in the husband's name only?

They've been married 25yrs, so everything mentioned here has been acquired during the marriage, and, if it matters, she is the primary earner, but did not pay for the car.

I'm not intending this as a discussion of parenting, and no one is talking divorce or any other legal action, I would simply like to know whether the car is jointly owned (and hers to use) under NJ law, even though his name is the only one on the title.

I hope this is an ok question for this site. Thanks much!

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    Is the question "Is titled property in the name of one spouse a joint asset" or "Does New Jersey consider all marital assets to be jointly held"? Is this a legal question or a relationship and parenting question? – Jason Aller Dec 30 '15 at 5:15
  • @JasonAller Hi, thanks for your reply. To be honest I'm not sure I see the difference between the two possibilities you list (though there of course is one, or you wouldn't be asking), and would appreciate an answer to both, or either, as it applies. As I said in my question, this isn't about relationships or parenting, but I thought the circumstances might be of use in determining the legal standing of the people/property. – SuzyD Dec 30 '15 at 5:29
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    Wouldn't any principle that lets her use the car also let the husband deny the son use of her car? Does the son own the sports car or is it owned by one or both of the parents? Does the wife presently have a key (and thus implied granted permission to use) to the car in question? – user662852 Dec 31 '15 at 18:15
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    @user662852 Hi, good questions, indeed. The son's car is in the name of both parents (though the husband now wants his name off the title), and I do not believe my friend has keys to her husband's older car, or has had need to use it in the past. Though I may be mistaken on that. It sounds like having the keys would be the determining factor, though? Interesting point you make about the husband being able to deny use of my friend's car -- that's a wrinkle that hadn't occurred to me. Thanks for taking the time to reply! – SuzyD Dec 31 '15 at 22:04
  • I think the question is whether a spouse has a right to use property titled in the name of the other spouse. But I may be mistaken. – ohwilleke Mar 26 at 2:08
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New Jersey is not a community property state, but it is an equitable distribution state. This means that in a divorce marital property is divided, not automatically 50-50, but in a way that seems financially fair to the supervising judge, or according to an agreement entered into by both spouses. This also means that the state considers a car bought during the course of the marriage "marital property". There are also special rules for property bought before May 28 1980, which do not seem to apply in the case in the question.

However, "marital property" mostly applies when a marriage ends which the question says is not in view here. NJ does allow for a car to be titled to only one, or to both. A title with both names may read "John Doe OR Mary Doe" or "John Doe AND Mary Doe". In the AND case both spouses must sign to sell or borrow against the car, in the OR case either signature will do. If only one name is on the title, that person must sign to sell or borrow.

If it comes down to a dispute, the person whose name is on the title can decide where it is to be garaged, and who has permission to drive it. If the "sporty" car is in the name of both parents, either could move it to some other location, and either could move it back. Going back and forth could easily get ugly.

If both names are on the 'sporty' car's title with an OR, the husband could sell it without consulting the wife. if there is an AND he would need her to agree.

If the older car is in the husband's name alone, he could deny the wife or the son the right to drive it.

The wife could, of course, buy a different older (used) car and allow the son to use it.

Obviously it would be a good idea if the husband and wife came to a voluntary agreement about all this, but no law requires them to do so.

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