Couples who go through a legal separation often have questions about the property they acquire during the separation period. In general, the status of any property you buy while separated is governed by the terms of your separation agreement, and your husband may have access to your new car. Legal separation requirements and laws differ significantly between states, so consult a qualified family law attorney if you have specific questions or need legal advice.
Legal Separation and Divorce
A legal separation, sometimes referred to as a limited divorce, is nearly identical to a divorce or marriage dissolution, except that the couple remains legally married. A legal separation includes terms about the marriage and the divorce, such as who receives property or whether one spouse must pay the other support payments. Legally separated couples cannot remarry, but have the same rights to property division, support and other rights as a divorcing couple.
After Acquired Property
When a couple gets a divorce, the court splits all property the couple owns, either individually or jointly. Once the divorce is finalized, each party is free to buy new property without worrying that the ex-spouse may have an interest in it. In a legal separation, however, this isn't always the case. While many legal separation agreements make it clear that any property each party acquires after the divorce, such as a car, remains the sole property of the spouse that acquired it, others may not.
Whether your spouse has a right or interest in your car also depends on other factors. For example, if you are unofficially separated and do not have a written legal separation decree or other agreement, your spouse may have an interest in your car if you ever file for divorce. Also, it you used a joint checking account to buy the car, for example, and both spouses contributed to the checking account by making deposits, your spouse may also have an interest in the car.
A legal separation is very different than a couple who simply decide to live separately or call themselves separated. Only a court can grant a legal separation and only after the spouses appear before the court and agree to separation terms. While the court will generally accept any terms the couples agree to, the court retains the ability to issue orders about child custody, visitation and child support. Apart from a legal separation, however, a couple may also enter into a nuptial or marital agreement that determines property issues. Not all states recognize the validity of such agreements, however, and you should talk to a lawyer if you're considering using one.