One of the lesser joys of the domestic practice is presiding over fights over personal property. My professional low point came twenty years ago while with another firm. My opponent that day was my current law partner David Rasner. In one afternoon we thought we settled a break up of a short term marriage where the couple had made a small fortune on the sale of their house. We were down to the personal property when both parties decided they could not each part with a particular hand held vacuum cleaner. That dispute almost killed a deal to divide almost $200,000 in gains on their home sale.
Equally galling are fights over cars; especially old cars without any real useful future. Folks love to park them in front of their separated spouse’s house and throw the keys in the mailbox. Even better, cancel the insurance since the car is not really drivable anyway.
This game is fraught with peril. The car is registered in both parties names and you park it in front of Evil Spouse’s apartment. A child skateboarding nearby slams into the car or severely cuts himself while playing with the rusted fender. The kid’s lawyer asserts the car was in the lane of traffic or that the rusty fender was an attractive nuisance. Who will have to hire the lawyer to defend you? You will because the car has no insurance.
Second problem: One of the things the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law requires is that you buy something called first party benefits. Essentially this is medical insurance for you if you have an accident. You must buy this coverage in some amount and pay for it. Most people don’t think about it because they have health insurance through employment. But if you are unemployed, your first party benefits may be the only coverage you have. And if you have a registered car that is uninsured in Pennsylvania, you lose your first party coverage even though you paid for it. And it doesn’t matter that you were injured in a car that was insured. The mere fact that you have an uninsured car is a forfeiture of your first party coverage.
The lesson is that car fights are expensive. It costs lawyer fees in your divorce and could yield a property or personal injury claim for which you have no coverage. Things like this can even make rich people poor in a hurry.